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Should You Bulk Or Cut: Get Your Answers Right Now

When you start working out, it’s crucial to know your fitness goals as these can help you figure out if you should cut or bulk. 

Basically, if your main goal is to build more muscle mass, you want to bulk; if you want to lose some extra pounds of body fat, you should cut. 

But things can get a little more complicated, based on your fitness level, body fat percentage, and how you approach your goal. Let’s go over the should I bulk or cut question a little more.

Should I bulk and cut simultaneously?

The acts of building muscle and dropping weight contradict each other, mainly due to calorie intake, so you need the right balance to get lean and build muscle.  Get that fat loss going.

You also need to follow important fitness rules.

Some people like to bulk up and then cut, or vice versa, while others prefer to do them simultaneously. 

We’ll take a look at that later, but first things first: let’s determine if you need to cut or bulk.

Time To Start Cutting?

Man Posing

Here’s how to know if you should be cutting instead of bulking: it comes down to your body fat percentage.

If you have too much body fat – that is, if you’re a guy with over 15 percent body fat or a woman with more than 25 percent body fat, you should be focusing on cutting to get lean.

This is because if you have too much body fat, you’re going to have too much subcutaneous fat.  That’s the layer of body fat that’s hiding your muscle mass. 

It’s back to the idea of skinny fat where someone has a much higher body fat percentage even though they appear to be a healthy weight. Sometimes we are hanging onto a lot of body fat and we don’t even know it.

If you decrease your body fat, you make this layer of fat smaller so your muscles that are hiding underneath it can show, giving you a leaner, more defined body aka no more skinny fat.

Should I Bulk Instead?

On the other hand, you’ll know if you should be building muscle instead of losing fat if your body fat percentage is in the healthy range. 

A healthy body fat percentage for a man is around 10% while a healthy body fat percentage for a woman is 17%.

When you have the right body fat percentage, you can give yourself the right foundation on which to build muscle mass and increase fat loss.

However, there are some mistakes people make when embarking on a bulking routine to build muscle.

Bulking Up Doesn’t Mean Building Muscle Blindly

For many people who want to build muscle, they do it all wrong. 

Instead of asking, “Should I cut or bulk?” they’re jumping in with bulking up which, for them, is more about putting on body weight quickly rather than putting on enough body weight to make them build muscle.

For example, they might gain too much body fat while they build muscle, which doesn’t make them look ripped.  Instead, it increases their body fat too much so the muscle hides underneath. Now they have to lose the fat again. In fact, they have the skinny fat problem again.

Then, they want to cut down on their body fat percentage because they don’t like the way they look.  It’s the idea of skinny fat where the scale says they are healthy as far as body weight goes. However, their body fat percentage is too high–hence the name skinny fat.

The problem? They end up losing the muscles they’ve gained!

The trick is to have the right balance between building muscle and fat loss. Lose fat so the skinny fat issue isn’t a problem, but get that weight training in to build muscle.

You can achieve it by doing a bulking phase that’s separate from a cutting phase, but ideally, you should lose fat before you build muscle. Here’s why.

Benefits Of Starting By Cutting - Lose Fat

The benefit of starting out the bulking-cutting cycle by concentrating on cut first and weight loss is that you will start doing exercises that will give you a good foundation for building more muscle mass. 

You’ll be working out to achieve fat loss and the stigma of skinny fat. Cut first to get rid of skinny fat.

In addition, ever heard the saying that a great body is made in the kitchen? 

It’s true! Focusing on getting leaner will get you on the right track to fat loss and building more muscle mass later. This is where bulking and cutting go hand in hand just not at the same time. It’s not about should you cut or bulk, but how you can make them work together in the long run.

If you want to burn more body fat and start building more muscle, you can do both by adding more protein to your diet.  Say goodbye to skinny fat and hello to lean muscle mass.

As you probably know, if you don’t get enough of this important nutrient, you won’t be able to build muscle on your lean frame.  Empty carbs will just promote more skinny fat and less muscle.

You should aim to consume approximately 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight if you’re doing weight training exercise, as The American College of Sports Medicine outlines. Believe it or not, that will help you to lose fat.

Should I bulk or cut if I'm a Beginner

Actually, it might be ok to do both. Is it hard to bulk up and cut simultaneously? 

Yes, but (call it beginner’s luck if you will), that’s not the case if you’re a beginner. 

A study published in the Ergonomics journal found that when women did a cardio and strength training program for three months, they lost an average of 10% of their body fat while boosting their muscle mass by around 9%. 

The research concluded that beginners respond faster to strength training and cardio. They were able to have some fat loss and build muscle at the same time.

Another study, this time published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal found that a group of people who were overweight lost more than 16 pounds of body fat and gained almost 10 pounds of muscle during a training program that lasted 14 weeks and included weight training and endurance training. Here to cut or bulk actually means go for both.

If You’re At An Advanced Level Of Exercise, It’s A Bit More Complicated

If you’ve been weight training for a while or you’re a bodybuilder who wants to build muscle and lose a lot of body fat, you should try to avoid doing both at the same time if you can.

The reason is that if you want to build more muscle mass you need to eat more calories than what you’re burning. 

On the other hand, if you’re keen to lose lots of weight and get rid of skinny fat, you need to eat fewer calories than what you burn in an intense session at the gym.  Once you do, your body fat will start to decrease.

The two goals just don’t work together.  You can’t lose fat and start gaining muscle at the same time. You need to cut or bulk–not do both. If you bulk first, it might cause you to get discouraged since you will see fat gain. The key is to keep yourself motivated and that is hard when you bulk first if you have high body fat levels.

Fact: If you’re giving your body fewer calories, you won’t give your muscles the energy they require to bulk up.

Of course, it’s not always easy to separate bulking from cutting and vice versa. Sometimes the answer to the question, “Should I cut or bulk?” is: both. Bulking and cutting can work together. 

You might find yourself in a position where you have to cut and bulk simultaneously. In these special circumstances, there are ways to achieve both goals.

It’s Called “Lean Bulking”

Lean Bulk

Forget “dirty bulking” – the act of building muscle without caring about how many calories you’re consuming.  Skinny fat and dirty bulking–lots of crazy phrases going on around here.

“Lean bulking” or “Clean bulking” – the act of building muscle without putting on too much weight or unhealthy body fat – is where it’s at if you want to be ripped. Plus, we like the term lean bulk a lot better than dirty bulking. Am I right?

Here are some important tips to follow if you want to achieve this. Bulk first here because it’s lean.

Increase Your Protein Intake Means Increase your weight loss

If you want to lose some body fat without sacrificing your hard-earned muscle, or blocking yourself from building more muscle, you need to increase your protein intake.  Stop the skinny fat by cutting the empty carbs and replacing them with fuel-efficient protein.

The reason you need to increase your protein intake is that when your body goes through fat loss, it breaks down muscle because it has to make up for the lower amounts of energy you’re giving it by consuming fewer calories.

The body actually breaks down fats and proteins in the muscle tissue that synthesize glucose so you have the energy to power through your strength training. Let’s face it. You are doing strength training to promote muscle growth not watch it go away.  Muscle gain is the thought process here not fat gain.

If you make sure that you have enough protein in your bloodstream, this decreases the chance that your muscles will be broken down because your body has enough of this essential nutrient. Your muscle growth will not diminish like it would if you were missing the protein.

Put On The Right Amount Of Weight

We mentioned earlier that increasing muscle mass means eating more calories.  In order to bulk first and gain muscle, you have to eat more. That’s exciting news. When is the last time someone told you to eat more in order to be healthier? No more calorie deficit. Eat more per week to promote muscle gain.

However, not just any calories will promote muscle growth. You can work out how many calories you should be throwing back by multiplying your body weight by 16. 

For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll multiply that by 16 and get 2,400 daily calories. That is how many calories you need to gain muscle.

This number should be made up of the right foods. It’s a total myth that bulking up means ice cream is a daily diet staple.  That is how skinny fat happens. Bulk means eating healthy foods that work toward muscle building.

Here’s an easy rule to follow for best results: 40% of your calories should be made up of proteins, 30 should be carbs, and 30 should be fats. This will lead to fat loss and muscle growth. Here, you bulk first, and weight loss comes as well. Losing fat is here. Get excited about building muscle and losing fat.

Pro tip: make sure you eat most of your carbs on workout days so that you have the fuel ready to burn during your intensive exercise session that promotes muscle growth, as Men’s Journal reports.

Don’t Overdo The Cardio

Unless you’re a beginner who can take advantage of cardio and strength training to lose weight and bulk up, you want to put a limit on your cardio. Skinny fat will not go away in just a few days or weeks even. We all know that weight loss takes some time.

Stick to doing it for a day or two max per week to avoid putting on the body fat and maintain the calories your muscles require to grow bigger.

Depending too much on cardio without doing any weight training, and not getting enough protein or enough calories to build muscle, will cause you to risk getting a “skinny fat” body. Remember appearing to be lean and actually being lean are two different things. Skinny fat will deceive you with a certain number on the scale that appears to be healthy. However, your body fat percentage will tell you otherwise. Sometimes we need weight loss even if the scale says otherwise.

Go Big With Strength Training

Couple Working Out

Bring in the weights to promote muscle growth. Goodbye excess body fat and hello muscles. 

You should aim for four strength-training workouts per week, but don’t skimp on your rest days as your body needs those for muscle growth.

During your workouts, it’s highly beneficial to work similar muscle groups simultaneously and instigate muscle gain. 

This means you can activate more muscle fibers. It makes sense because muscles don’t work on their own.  Stimulate muscle growth all over your body and that body fat will be history.

When you do a squat, for instance, you’re targeting your calves, glutes, and thighs. So, focus on working out one muscle group (such as your chest or back) in one workout.

Then add to this by splitting the rest of your gym session into exercises that focus on smaller muscle groups (perhaps the biceps and shoulders, for instance).

Focusing on one big muscle group per day a few times per week is important because if you do more than that, such as by working out your chest on the same day as your back, you’ll quickly tire yourself out.  You want to build muscle, but you want to do it the right way.

If you don’t, you won’t have enough energy to do whichever one is your second exercise routine. Weight training is not about fast and furious. Muscle building is a marathon in order to lower those body fat levels.

What If You’ve Bulked Up, Lost Muscle, And Want It Back?

Man Lifting Weights

In this case, you might do well to have a bit of a break from strength training if you’re hoping to bulk up without putting on excess body fat and halting your weight loss.

Although you might think you need to push hard every day, doing the same things at the gym for a long period of time can cause your muscle growth to stagnate. 

Mix things up by taking a break and don’t stress about fat gain.

A study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that when rugby players returned to the game after a break between seasons, they lost three pounds of body fat and built over four pounds of muscle during their pre-season training.

What gives? 

It’s all about muscle memory. When you gain muscle, lose it, and then regain it, it will actually grow faster the second time around. Pretty cool, right?

Bottom Line

If you want to increase your muscle mass but be cut, you can have your cake and eat it, too.  Gain muscle and lose fat–all the best things.

You just have to ensure your workout and diet routines are in sync, without trying to bulk up or lose weight too quickly.  Avoid being skinny fat. Pay attention to more than just what the scale says. Weight loss is more than a number on the scale.

How Long Will It Take Me To Cut?

If you want to lose 10 pounds or less, you can do this within two or so months. The more body fat you have, the more time it’ll take to lose.  There is only so much fat you can lose in a certain amount of time if you are doing it in a healthy way.

Also, you don’t want to rush the fat loss process too much as this can make you lose muscle along with fat, which you want to avoid. Think gain muscle and lose fat not the other way around.

How Much More Should I Be Eating To Lean Bulk?

You might think you need to eat much more to be lean and gain muscle, but that’s not true. 

You want to focus on increasing your diet to more than 100 to 500 extra calories per day, as this will help you preserve your muscle gains while helping you not put on too much weight. Remember you want to keep your body fat low otherwise you risk the skinny fat issue.

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