Deciding whether to bulk or cut is a really common dilemma, and deciding on one or the other is essential if you want to make progress. If you don’t decide between these two goals then you are destined to a lifelong plateau!
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s clarify what bulking and cutting mean:
- You are Cutting if your primary goal is to lose fat
- You are Bulking if your primary goal is to build muscle
However, you may ask why you need to choose between burning fat and building muscle – can’t we just do both at once? Unfortunately not!
At a given time, your body can either be in a fat-burning state or a muscle-building state. Don’t fall for any fad diet or training method that tries to tell you otherwise – it is impossible to achieve both states at once. Therefore you usually have to compromise and choose to either focus on building muscle (bulking) or losing fat (cutting).
You also need to know that it is very difficult to build muscle without putting on some body fat. The opposite is also true – it is very difficult to lose body fat without some degree of muscle wastage. Therefore a common practice is to cycle between phases of bulking and cutting to maximise muscle gain without gaining too much body fat. Multiple phases of bulking and cutting correctly will lead to an increase in lean body mass, which is the ultimate goal for anyone wanting to appear more muscular, defined and toned.
There are three questions that people usually ask at this stage, and we will answer each in turn:
- Which phase should I start with? Should I bulk or should I cut first?
- How long should I do each phase for?
- What’s the best method to use for bulking and cutting?
Should I Bulk or Cut First?
Your current body fat percentage
- If your body fat is moderate-high, then you probably want to start with cutting.
- If your body fat is fairly low, then you probably want to start with bulking.
So, what body fat percentage is considered moderate-high? For a male this is about 15% or higher, and for a female this is about 23% or higher.
You can do a secondary check for this cutting or bulking threshold. At 15% body fat, males should be able to see a rough outline of the top abs. For a female, 23% body fat is about the threshold above which you will start to get ‘love handles’.
Don’t panic if you don’t know your body fat percentage. You can estimate body fat levels relatively accurately without any fancy equipment. All you need is the picture below and a mirror! Check yourself out in the mirror and compare yourself to this image:
So now you know your body fat percentage, you should know whether you should bulk or cut first. Now you know your goal, you need to know the best length of time for each phase.
How Long Should Each Phase Last for?
Bulking and cutting are very different: you can lose fat a LOT faster than you can build muscle. Therefore the length of each phase is totally different.
A cutting phase typically lasts 10-15 weeks and no longer. Experienced bodybuilders may cut for up to 20 weeks, but for most people cutting for 10-15 weeks is best for minimising muscle wastage whilst burning the most fat possible.
- Try to cut too fast and you will be eating too few calories, and as a result you will lose too much muscle and sacrifice toning!
- Try to cut/diet for too long and you can damage your metabolism. Your body will think it’s starving and stop you losing fat anyway!
A bulking phase typically lasts 3 months to a year! Muscle building is a slower process than fat loss, so the duration is a lot longer than cutting.
- If you don’t bulk for long enough, you will not build enough muscle to ensure that you make a net muscle gain after you next cut.
- Try to bulk for too long and you may end up gaining excessive body fat that will be hard to lose.
What’s the Best way to Bulk or Cut?
Now you know whether to bulk or cut first, you need to learn how to go about cutting or bulking to get the best results.
Cutting requires you to eat a caloric deficit in order to lose weight. A caloric deficit simply means eating less calories than your body uses.
You can accelerate your fat loss by using steady state (LISS) and high-intensity (HIIT) cardio, plus you can incorporate weight training to burn fat and help maintain muscle mass. Beginners may also build muscle if they incorporate weight training into their first cut!
However, in order to get the best results you need to eat the correct diet for your body type. This includes manipulating your calories on a weekly basis, eating the correct macronutrients, and incorporating refeed days to prevent your body going into starvation mode. You also need the right combination of weight training, LISS and HIIT cardio.
It can be hard to know where to start with your cutting diet and training, so that’s why we created our Ultimate Cutting package. Our Ultimate Cutting package has been used to great effect by hundreds of our clients – check out their Transformations to see how it could work for you.
Bulking requires you to eat a caloric surplus in order to build muscle. A caloric surplus simply means eating more calories than your body uses.
However, it’s not that simple! Eat too much and you will gain too much fat, and eat too little and you will simply stay the same weight and build no muscle.
In order to build the most muscle whilst putting on the least fat, you want both your training and diet to be optimised together. You need to manipulate your calories on a weekly basis to ensure you don’t plateau and you need to adjust your training to optimise muscle growth.
It is difficult to know where to begin with your bulking diet and training programme, so that’s why we created our Ultimate Muscle package. Our Ultimate Muscle package give you everything you need to make bulking easy, and comes with full email support so we can work together to get the best possible results.