Ranking the best cutting stacks of 2020

Ranking the best cutting stacks of 2020
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A cutting stack is a combination of supplements that are designed to be taken during the “cutting” phase of a bodybuilding program, where you attempt to drop as much body fat as possible while retaining your muscle mass.

The traditional bodybuilding strategy is to alternate bulking and cutting to achieve a better physique. Cutting stacks draw inspiration from anabolic steroid cycling routines that manipulate levels of testosterone, human growth hormone, and other anabolic hormones, and strive to achieve similar hormonal effects using naturally-occurring supplements.

If you want to decrease your body fat percentage while maintaining the muscle mass you work so hard to build, look no further than a cutting stack. We’ve ranked the best options for supplemental cutting stacks on the market. 

Rankings

1. CrazyBulk Cutting Stack

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CrazyBulk Cutting Stack consists of a four-supplement combo that boosts muscle synthesis, increases fat oxidation, aids your energy levels, and keeps your cortisol down.

Don’t let the names of each supplement fool you—this supplement is an all-natural steroid alternative that is great for cutting phases of bodybuilding. Each supplement packs a punch, and the company recommends cycling on and off for a four-week period. Thanks to the diversity of its ingredients, it’s our number one pick.

2. Animal Cuts

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Animal Cuts hits you with a powerful combo of stimulants, diuretics, nootropics, and cortisol inhibitors to increase your body’s metabolic rate and its fat oxidation rate.

On top of that, the diuretic ingredients like dandelion root and celery seed decrease your body’s water retention, making Animal Cuts a favorite among bodybuilders, powerlifters, and combat sport competitors, all of whom need to make weight classes.

The herbal ingredients which inhibit cortisol and boost cognitive performance, like ashwagandha and bacopa monnieri, are a nice touch, as they help keep you focused and sharp even when on pretty aggressive caloric restriction. 

3. Universal Nutrition Ripped Fast

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Universal Nutrition Ripped Fast is a great all-around cutting stack supplement, thanks to its inclusion of stimulants, fat oxidizers, energy boosters, and diuretics.

There’s a solid amount of caffeine and green tea extract to accelerate fat burning, plus vitamin B6 for extra energy on tough cut days. This supplement also features diuretics like alfalfa, dandelion, uva ursi, and cayenne.

It’s a good call for people looking to make weight for a competition, while also burning fat effectively. While it lacks a bit in testosterone and muscle support, those are its only real weaknesses. 

4. Genius Burn

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Genius Burn is a next-generation fat burner and nootropic that can help you feel more focused and have higher energy levels, all while increasing your body’s fat burning rate.

It has some advanced compounds not found in many other supplements, like capsicum and gymnema sylvestre. If you want your cutting stack to focus primarily on burning fat and boosting energy, Genius Burn is the way to go.

5. Redcon1 Double Tap

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Redcon1 makes a slew of supplements suitable for a cutting stack, but their best performer is Double Tap. This supplement is focused on burning fat and increasing metabolism via the actions of caffeine, green tea extract, and theacrine, a caffeine-like cognitive booster found in kucha tea.

If your primary issues during a cutting phase are a lack of energy and a lower rate of fat loss than you’d like, Double Tap is a good choice. 

6. Vintage Burn

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Vintage Burn features a combo of appetite suppressants, thermogenics, and fat oxidizers. In these easy to take capsules, you’ll find green tea extract, green coffee bean extract, caffeine, bacopa monnieri, and garcinia cambogia, to name the primary ingredients.

While it has less of a focus on maintaining muscle mass per se (you may need to pair it with a BCAA supplement), Vintage Burn is still a solid choice if you are looking for a reliable fat burner during a cut. 

7. Iron Brothers Thermo Burn Stimulant Free

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Iron Brothers Thermo Burn comes in two varieties, one of which has caffeine, yohimbe, and other stimulants to boost fat oxidation, and one of which is stimulant-free. Both are solid cutting stack supplements, but the stimulant-free version is great for people who are caffeine-sensitive but still want the benefits of a cutting supplement.

The stimulant-free version features chromium, acetyl-L-carnitine, olive extract, forskolin, and cayenne pepper as its primary active ingredients. While some users will be turned off by the synthetic coloring agents used to give the capsules their distinctive black and yellow appearance, this stimulant-free cutting stack fills an important niche in the market. 

8. Nobi Nutrition Women’s Fat Burner

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When it comes to cutting stacks, there’s not much on the market for women specifically. However, Nobi Nutrition makes a pretty nice supplement for female athletes trying to cut weight.

It’s stimulant-free, and focuses its strategy on providing your body with ketone derivatives that encourage your body to burn more fat without relying on caffeine, green tea extract, or other direct simulants. Its narrow focus lands it farther down in the rankings, but for women looking to cut weight and maintain muscle, it’s worth a look. 

9. USA Sports Labs Cutting Edge

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Cutting Edge is a cutting supplement that’s oriented towards bodybuilders, combat sports competitors, and other athletes who need to cut weight to meet a certain weight class.

This cutting supplement leans more heavily on diuretics to drop water weight, as well as vitamin B6 to maintain energy levels during low-calorie days.

It includes green tea concentrate, but not at nearly a high enough level to have a strong fat-burning effect. Though this supplement might be worth a shot for people who need to make weight, it’s not the best fit for everybody.

10. ASL Yellow Demons

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ASL Yellow Demon is a thermogenic-focused cutting supplement that uses a combination of caffeine, black tea, green tea, and green coffee extracts to boost fat oxidation.

Unfortunately these ingredients are all blended together in a proprietary blend, making it difficult to analyze the efficacy of each ingredient.

Further, ASL Yellow Demons doesn’t provide much in the way of support for testosterone and human growth hormone, nor does it provide much support for muscle synthesis. As such, it winds up at the bottom of the rankings. 

Who should buy a cutting stack?

Cutting stacks fit naturally into just about any standard bodybuilding routine. If you are on a program that alternates between bulking (possibly with a bulking stack supplement) and cutting, you can add in a cutting stack during your cutting phases without much of a problem.

Cutting stacks fit naturally into this routine by amping up several different biological processes that contribute to burning more body fat and maintaining muscle mass. Cutting stacks often incorporate stimulants like caffeine or green tea extract, which ramp up your body’s natural fat oxidation, and also tend to include branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and other compounds to sustain muscular strength.

As such, athletes looking to gain functional strength while keeping off excess weight are excellent candidates for the kinds of training programs that cutting stacks are designed for.

The same is true for people whose primary goal is building muscle mass but who don’t want the excess body fat that comes along with following a pure bulking program and relying on mass gainer for maximizing body weight as much as possible.

In contrast, cutting stacks aren’t necessarily the best choice for people who are just looking to lose some weight. Unless you are following a fairly serious training program, you’d probably be better suited by an appetite suppressant, thermogenic, or a natural weight loss supplement.

The reason for this has to do with the physiological effects that cutting stacks target: cutting stacks tend to have stronger stimulants, hormone boosters, diuretics, and muscle-building compounds in them, largely to support athletes who train at a high intensity.

Many of the ingredients in cutting stacks, for example, are also found in pre-workout and intra-workout supplements. The level of these ingredients might be a bit much for people who aren’t hitting the gym several times a week. 

However, if you do train hard, a cutting stack can help you maintain the high energy levels you need to get in the kinds of workouts that are necessary for maintaining muscle mass and muscle strength. One of the primary problems that cutting stacks can rectify is the low energy levels and general lethargic feelings that tend to accompany weight loss.

Due to the lack of calories, your body tends to reign in your energy levels and, if unchecked, promote a state of catabolism (the process of muscular breakdown)—what you want is to retain an anabolic (muscle-building) state as much as possible even as you drop body fat. Cutting stacks, combined with a serious training routine, can help you do that.

How we ranked

We formulated our rankings based on some of the key physiological targets necessary for sustaining a successful cutting cycle.

First among these was burning fat. We noted which cutting supplements on the market had supplemental ingredients that are associated with increasing baseline metabolic rate or increasing your body’s rate of fat oxidation.

This included stimulants like caffeine, guarana, and yerba mate. While not everyone wants stimulants in their cutting stack (some people are quite sensitive to their negative side effects), they can nevertheless be powerful components for boosting metabolism and dropping body fat.

To this end, our top rated cutting stacks tended to have stimulants in them, but we made sure to retain some stimulant-free cutting stack supplements for further analysis as we formulated our rankings.

Next up, we considered how well each cutting stack supplement supported high levels of testosterone and human growth hormone,which are absolutely essential if your goal is to maintain a hormonal environment in your body that is conducive to retaining muscle mass.

The low energy availability that your body finds itself in when you are in the middle of a cutting phase means that your body is encouraged to go into catabolism, breaking down tissue like your muscles. Countering these catabolic effects is a major goal of cutting stacks, and is one of the differentiating factors between cutting stacks and more general-purpose weight loss supplements.

If you are trying to drop 50 pounds of fat, and you don’t have much muscle mass to start with, it’s not a big deal if you lose a bit of strength—you probably won’t even notice it.

Conversely, if you have been training hard for weeks or months, you want to hang on to as much strength as possible. We dropped from consideration any cutting stack supplements that didn’t have at least one ingredient that would contribute to a positive, anabolic hormonal profile. 

On top of metabolism and hormone levels, we also evaluated the degree to which each cutting stack supplement provided any additional benefits, like nootropics to sustain better focus and help ward off mental fog, or cortisol-blocking supplements to further enhance your hormone profile during your cutting phase. While these additional perks helped us fine-tune the rankings, they were not the central focus.

One of these additional categories of ingredients that we considered was diuretics. These supplements encourage your body to shed excess water, which brings your weight down, but doesn’t change your body composition.

These ingredients are helpful, but only if you are preparing for a sport with specific weight classes or are preparing for competition bodybuilding. Dropping water can decrease your body weight and improve the appearance of your physique, but it’s not going to decrease your body fat percentage. 

Finally, we screened out cutting stack supplements that contained too much in the way of risky or ineffective ingredients.

Like with other weight loss supplements, there are some supplemental ingredients that are known to be associated with higher risks of side effects, or that have been proven to just not be very effective. These supplements were dropped. 

We ordered the remaining supplements based on their metabolic effects, hormonal effects, and any additional benefits, leaving us with our final rankings of the top cutting stacks available on the market. 

Benefits

Cutting stack supplements can boost your body’s fat oxidation rate. Since cutting is all about dropping body fat while hanging on to as much muscle mass as possible, one logical way to move towards that goal is to boost your body’s ability to burn fat.

Fortunately, some of the best-studied and most effective weight loss supplements do exactly this. Green tea extract and green coffee bean extract are two prime examples: both are known to increase the turnover of lipids in fat cells, which helps explain the finding that overweight and obese people who are given these supplements tend to lose weight (1).

Caffeine is another way to achieve the same effect—while caffeine is not without potential side effects, it is a powerful and effective way to increase your body’s metabolic rate and increase its fat oxidation rate as well. 

Since green coffee bean extract and green tea extract both contain caffeine, you might wonder whether they’re necessary if you’re already taking caffeine as a part of your cutting stack (in other words, is their fat loss benefit solely because of their caffeine content?).

Interestingly, the answer seems to be no—green tea extract, green coffee bean extract, and several other thermogenics appear to have benefits that extend beyond their caffeine content, though there does appear to be an additive effect with these active ingredients and caffeine (2).

These findings suggest that, if possible, getting a cutting stack with both caffeine and other fat burners is the best way to go, assuming you can tolerate the potential side effects of caffeine. 

Amino acids included in a cutting stack can help sustain muscular strength during a cutting phase. One of the biggest challenges during cutting is maintaining muscle mass and muscle strength. Normally, the supplemental strategies that you would use to sustain high levels of muscle mass and muscle strength would involve supplementing with a high-quality source of protein, such as hydrolyzed whey protein or casein protein (3).

However, during periods of intensive cutting, sustaining high protein intake is more difficult. One solution is to provide only the essential amino acids for muscle building and muscle maintenance in the form of branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs.

The three branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are known to protect muscles during intensive workouts, and help repair damage as well (4).

For less well-known reasons, BCAAs also seem to promote fat loss, independent of the effects of other fat burning supplements included in a cutting stack. Because of their ability to help preserve muscle mass and muscle strength, you’ll find BCAAs in some of the top-ranked cutting stacks.

If you choose to go with a cutting stack that does not include BCAAs, it might be wise to take a BCAA supplement in addition, because BCAAs have an excellent safety profile and tend not to interact with any other supplements. 

A cutting stack can help maintain high levels of testosterone and human growth hormone. Another problem when cutting fat is maintaining a healthy anabolic hormonal milieu to encourage maintenance of muscle mass.

To solve this problem, most cutting stacks will incorporate testosterone boosters like ginseng, nettle leaf, tribulus terrestris, magnezium, zinc, and fenugreek seed. While the evidence for the efficacy of these testosterone boosters varies, the overarching strategy is the same: elevate testosterone to sustain better muscle strength and (because of the anabolic effects of testosterone) decrease the accumulation of fat.

The research is pretty clear on this front: higher testosterone levels mean higher levels of muscle protein synthesis, leading to larger and stronger muscles (5).

A similar strategy is at play for human growth hormone, or HGH. With compounds like L-arginine, saw palmetto, and other ingredients designed to elevate growth hormone levels, cutting stacks aim to sustain a healthy hormonal environment that encourages maintaining muscle mass, even when your body is in an energy deficit. 

Getting a cutting stack that helps eliminate excess water retention is important if you are cutting weight for a sport. One of the more controversial aspects of cutting stacks is the choice of whether to use one that includes diuretics for dropping water weight.

Water pills got a bad rap several years ago when they were promoted as general-purpose diet pills, which is just not true—diuretics aren’t going to help you achieve sustainable weight loss; all they do is decrease your body’s water retention (usually by increasing urine output), so claims of dramatic weight loss from diuretics are misleading: once you rehydrate, or go off the diuretic, your body weight will go back up to where it started.

However, completely writing off diuretics isn’t the right idea either—if a major objective of cutting is to cut weight, then diuretics can play an important role in a cutting stack. Bodybuilders, powerlifters, mixed martial arts fighters, and other combat sport competitors all need to make specific weight classes to achieve their goals.

Since the objective of these athletes is to retain as much muscle mass and muscle strength as possible while cutting to meet their weight goals, dropping water weight is a viable strategy. Water weight is also much faster to drop than “real” weight (i.e. fat mass), though you should be realistic about both the amount of water weight that is safe for you to lose, and your expectations for overall fat loss when using a cutting stack that has diuretics in it.

In most cases, cutting stacks with diuretics are best reserved for people who need to meet specific weight classes for competition, not for people cutting for aesthetic or overall fitness and health reasons.

Side effects 

The two types of supplemental ingredients in cutting stacks that carry the greatest risk of side effects are stimulants and diuretics.

Caffeine, a common cutting stack ingredient and perhaps the best-known and most widely-used stimulant in the world, has a well-characterized set of side effects (6).

These include jitteriness, nausea, irritability, and at higher doses, heart palpitations and other cardiac disturbances. These side effects tend to be higher at doses above 200 mg, though the threshold for the onset of side effects depends on your body weight.

As you might guess, larger people can tolerate a given dose of caffeine better than smaller people. Men also appear to have a lower incidence of caffeine-related side effects, but plenty of men are still affected by caffeine-related issues from supplements that include caffeine.

The side effect profile of other stimulants, like green tea extract and green coffee bean extract, is less well-characterized, but can include digestive problems such as diarrhea and, in rare cases, liver damage (7). 

Diuretics can lead to abnormalities in your body’s electrolyte levels, particularly for potassium (8). Further, they can (and in fact are designed to) lead to dehydration, which poses its own set of side effects.

As discussed above, diuretic usage is not the right call for users of a cutting stack unless it is for a short-term weight cut to hit a specific weight class for competition.

Diuretics carry side effect risks that just aren’t justified if your goal is to drop fat mass and maintain muscle mass, with less concern about what the actual number on the scale is. 

Recommended dosage

Most bodybuilding experts recommend cutting cycles of at least six weeks, though the cycle duration of a cutting stack tends to be shorter, at more like four weeks.

Using a cutting stack for much longer than this will likely not result in substantially greater benefits, and can increase the potential for side effects.

For cutting specifically for competition (where water weight is a greater challenge), cutting cycles tend to be shorter. Some mixed martial arts fighters and boxers only cut for about five days prior to competition—though these cutting cycles lean heavily on dropping water weight via dehydration. 

When it comes to dosage of specific ingredients, the best guidance available suggests that primary active ingredients, like caffeine, should be limited to only a few hundred milligrams—typically, less than 500 mg per day (9).

With other stimulants like green tea extract, typical doses for maximum efficacy are in the range of about 300 to 1200 mg per day (10).

For the long tail of other ingredients, like dandelion root or uva ursi, there’s far less evidence for optimal dosing. For these ingredients, you’ll have to stick with the dosage that’s recommended by the cutting stack manufacturer.

FAQ

Q: What are the most important supplements to take while cutting? 

A: When doing a cutting cycle, you should focus on three broad categories of supplement ingredients: fat burners, strength maintainers, and hormone boosters.

Fat burners include caffeine, green tea extract, and garcinia cambogia; these ingredients accelerate the rate at which your body oxidizes fat and elevate your overall metabolic rate. These are beneficial effects because they increase the amount of energy, and fat specifically, that you burn at rest.

Combined with a caloric deficit from your cutting diet, you’ll shed fat rapidly. Strength maintainers are compounds that help you sustain your muscular strength during a cut, like branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). These compounds have some crossover with hormone boosters, because one of the best ways to encourage your body to hang on to muscle mass is to have high levels of testosterone and human growth hormone.

Providing your body with precursors or necessary vitamins and minerals to synthesize these hormones may help you keep high levels of anabolic hormones, even during a cut. 

Q: Can you cut fat and gain muscle? 

A: Cutting fat without losing any muscle mass is the holy grail of bodybuilding and strength training—unfortunately, it’s not possible for anyone except a rank novice to drop substantial amounts of fat and lose nothing in the way of muscle mass.

However, with the right training programs and nutrition/supplementation strategies, you can maximize the amount of fat you lose and minimize the amount of muscle lost at the same time.

When stacking cutting and bulking phases back to back, you can substantially increase your strength and decrease your body fat percentage over time. 

Q: What cutting supplements help for your abs? 

A: It’s not possible to cut fat specifically from just one area—getting shredded abs has to be part of an overall cutting strategy to reduce your body fat percentage.

So, in this sense, the best cutting supplements for your abs are also the best cutting supplements for the rest of your body.

Increasing fat oxidation, sustaining healthy levels of anabolic hormones, and providing your muscles with building blocks for muscle proteins are key for sustaining a solid whole-body cut.

Q: Can you take a pre-workout supplement while cutting? 

A: We don’t recommend taking pre-workout supplements while cutting, primarily because most high-quality cutting stacks share many of the same ingredients as pre-workout supplements. These ingredients may include caffeine, green tea extract, and other stimulants.

Given the known side effects of excessive amounts of caffeine (detailed above), it’s best not to push your limits by taking a pre-workout supplement and a cutting stack.

If you know that your pre-workout supplement is stimulant-free, or conversely if your cutting stack is stimulant-free, you can more confidently take both a pre-workout and a cutting stack, but even then it’s wise to check the ingredients list to make sure you’re not overloading on any particular individual supplement ingredient.

Q: Can you take nitric oxide while cutting? 

A: Nitric oxide is a supplement that’s traditionally used for increasing endurance performance and improving strength. Some people also feel that it gives them a “rush” to sustain higher energy levels.

Nitric oxide goes along well with cutting stacks, though it isn’t a core part of the compounds you want in a cutting stack supplement.

Nevertheless, if your sport involves any aspect of endurance or cardiovascular fitness, taking nitric oxide while cutting might be wise to sustain high levels of aerobic fitness. 

Q: What supplements help you maintain muscle while you are in a cutting phase? 

A: To maintain muscle mass while cutting, the two goals you should focus on are ensuring that your testosterone and human growth hormone levels are high, and that your muscles have the right building blocks to repair damage that you do to them during training.

Testosterone boosters are a core component of a cutting stack, and though it’s less common, several of the top cutting stack supplements include BCAAs or other sources of amino acids to support muscle synthesis. BCAAs in particular are worth adding to your cutting stack if your primary cutting supplement does not include them. 

Q: Can boosting your testosterone help with cutting?

A: Yes, taking supplements that keep your testosterone levels elevated might be one of the easiest ways to use supplements to improve your cut.

Testosterone, in addition to its well-known role in sustaining muscle protein synthesis, is also a potent fat burner—it’s one of the primary reasons why men have lower body fat percentages than women.

So, if a supplement can help keep your testosterone levels elevated, it will definitely help with dropping more fat and holding on to more muscle during your cut.

Q: How do cutting supplements work? 

A: Any cutting stack will target at least one of two possible mechanisms to improve your cutting phase. First, it can boost your body’s metabolism. Ideally, this happens via increases in fat oxidation. This first mechanism is the target of cutting stack ingredients like caffeine, green tea extract, and theobromine.

These compounds encourage your body to increase the rate at which fat is oxidized in your fat cells, which helps you burn more fat off every day. The other primary mechanism that may be targeted by a cutting supplement is boosting your testosterone and human growth hormone levels.

These anabolic hormones help your body continue to maintain your muscle mass and muscular strength. Testosterone in particular also has the ability to boost fat oxidation. Cutting supplements don’t contain these hormones themselves, but do contain vitamins, minerals, and natural extracts that some research has shown to boost levels of testosterone or human growth hormone.

Some cutting supplements provide additional benefits, like nootropic ingredients to increase your mental focus, or diuretics to help you drop water weight, but fat oxidation and boosting anabolic hormone levels are the primary targets. 

Related articles

Recap

A cutting stack is a combination of supplements that make it easier to maintain muscle mass and strength while you are cutting fat.

If you want to drop your body fat percentage and hang on to as much muscle mass as possible, a cutting stack can help you accomplish that goal.

Cutting stacks aim to increase your metabolic rate, decrease feelings of hunger, reduce water retention, and ultimately leave you looking leaner and more defined. 

For BodyNutrition‘s #1 cutting stack recommendation, click here.





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