When you start working out, it’s crucial to know your fitness goals as these can help you figure out if you should bulk or cut.
Basically, if your main goal is to build more muscle mass, you want to bulk; if you want to lose some extra pounds of 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.
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.
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?
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 fat that’s hiding your muscle mass.
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.
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.
This means, you have around 10 percent body fat as a man and around 17 percent body fat as a woman.
You’re healthy and can give yourself the right foundation on which to build muscle.
However, there are some mistakes people make when embarking on a bulking routine.
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 bulk or cut?” they’re jumping in with bulking up which, for them, is more about putting on weight quickly rather than putting on enough 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.
Then, they want to cut down on their body fat percentage because they don’t like the way they look.
The problem? They end up losing the muscles they’ve gained!
The trick is to have the right balance between how much muscle you’re building and how much fat you’re losing.
You can achieve it by doing a bulking phase that’s separate from a cutting phase, but ideally you should be losing weight before you build muscle. Here’s why.
Benefits Of Starting By Cutting
The benefit of starting out the bulking-cutting cycle by concentrating on 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 lose weight.
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 weight loss and building more muscle mass later.
If you want to burn more fat and start building more muscle, you can do both by adding more protein to your diet.
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.
You should aim to consume approximately 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight if you’re doing strength-training exercise, as The American College of Sports Medicine outlines.
You Can Do Both If You’re A Beginner
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 percent of their body fat, while boosting their muscle mass by around nine percent.
The research concluded that beginners respond faster to strength training and cardio.
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 fat and gained almost 10 pounds of muscle during a training program that lasted 14 weeks and included strength training and endurance training.
If You’re At An Advanced Level Of Exercise, It’s A Bit More Complicated
If you’ve been strength training for a while or you’re a bodybuilder who wants to build up a lot of muscle and lose a lot of fat, you should try to avoid doing both at the same time if you can.
The reason is because if you want to build more muscle you need to eat more calories than what you’re burning.
On the other hand, if you’re keen to lose lots of weight, you need to eat fewer calories than what you burn in an intense session at the gym.
The two goals just don’t work together.
Fact: If you’re giving your body less 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 bulk or cut?” is: both.
You might find yourself in the 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”
Forget “dirty bulking” – the act of building muscle without caring about how many calories you’re consuming.
“Lean bulking” or “Clean bulking” – the act of building muscle without putting on too much weight or unhealthy weight – is where it’s at if you want to be ripped.
Here are some important tips to follow if you want to achieve this.
Increase Your Protein Intake
If you want to lose some weight without sacrificing your hard-earned muscle, or blocking yourself from building more muscle, you need to increase your protein intake.
The reason why is because when your body loses fat, 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 energy to power through your strength training.
If you make sure that you have enough protein in your blood stream, this decreases the chance that your muscles will be broken down because your body has enough of this essential nutrient.
Put On The Right Amount Of Weight
We mentioned earlier that increasing muscle mass means eating more calories.
But not just any calories. 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.
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.
Well, if you want to avoid hiding your muscle under too much fat, that is.
Here’s an easy rule to follow for best results: 40 percent of your calories should be made up of proteins, 30 should be carbs, and 30 should be fats.
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, 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.
Stick to doing it for a day or two max every week to avoid putting on weight and maintain the calories your muscles require to grow bigger.
Depending too much on cardio without doing any strength training, and not getting enough protein or enough calories to build muscle, will cause you to risk getting a “skinny fat” body which is when you’re at a lean or healthy number on the scale but you lack muscle.
Go Big With Strength Training
Bring in the weights to bulk up your muscles.
You should aim for four strength-training workouts every week, but don’t skimp on your rest days as your body needs those so that your muscles can grow.
During your workouts, it’s highly beneficial to work similar muscle groups simultaneously.
This means you can activate more muscle fibers. It makes sense because muscles don’t work on their own.
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 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 won’t have enough energy to do whichever one is your second exercise routine.
What If You’ve Bulked Up, Lost Muscle, And Want It Back?
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 too much weight.
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.
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 fat and built over four pounds of muscle during their pre-season training.
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.
If you want to increase your muscle mass but be cut, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
You just have to ensure your workout and diet routines are in sync, without trying to bulk up or lose weight too quickly.
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 fat you have on your body, the more time it’ll take to lose.
However, don’t rush the process too much as this can make you lose muscle along with fat, which you want to avoid.
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.