Table of Contents
- 1 What’s Wrong with Cutting and Bulking?
- 1.1 #1. You Get Fat and Bulky
- 1.2 #2. There is a Thing Called Too Much Protein
- 1.3 #3. Binging and Crash Dieting
- 1.4 #4. Psychological Effects of Bulking
- 1.5 #5. Cutting Fat without Losing Muscle Is Tricky
- 1.6 #6. Rapid Cutting Alters Hormones
- 1.7 #7. Sharp Decline in Athletic Performance
- 1.8 #8. Not Suitable for Every Age Group
- 2 What You Can Do Instead to Gain Lean Muscle Mass?
- 3 Gaining Lean Muscle Mass: Frequently Asked Questions
- 4 Closing Thoughts
Is cutting and bulking the only way to those six-pack washboard abs you see in magazines?
If you’re here, it’s more than likely you already know the Bulking and Cutting Cycle to be the most preferred way to add in muscle mass.
In the bodybuilding realm, cutting and bulking is essentially cycling between the two phases.
People with extra weight usually start with cutting to lose excess fat before they try to put on any extra mass.
After this, they switch to the bulking phase where they are on a calorie surplus diet along with a training program to gain as much mass as possible before returning to the cutting phase.
And cutting is nothing more than losing fat while retaining the muscle you worked hard to gain during the bulking cycle.
The Science behind Cutting and Bulking is just that. And the end goal is a shredded and toned body with just the right muscle-to-fat ratio.
But Does Bulking and Cutting Really Work like this for everyone?
Well, the harsh reality is it rarely does.
Men and women alike just end up where they started. Or in other cases, they might have increased fat percentage.
Not to mention, the suffering of going through this excruciating cycle without getting results.
In this blog, I’ll explain the issues with traditional Cutting and Bulking Programs and what you can do instead for those killer abs.
What’s Wrong with Cutting and Bulking?
Before explaining why Bulking and Cutting Phases rarely work, it’s important to understand why it’s so popular.
The term was actually coined by competitive bodybuilders wanting to get in the right shape within a deadline.
And people have since stuck to the idea as it does work for bodybuilders so it will work out for everyone. Right? Wrong.
Besides, there are many pitfalls to this kind of approach to muscle gain. The fact that many people follow this blindly due to lack of experience and awareness of alternatives is even more concerning.
Here are the main issues with Alternating between Bulking and Cutting.
#1. You Get Fat and Bulky
The whole idea behind bulking is to eat more calories than required to put on mass. Though more often than not, around 70% of this mass is the muscle and the rest is fat.
Moreover, there is a misconception that eating as much protein as possible is going to grow muscle rapidly.
While protein is important, there is a limitation to the amount of muscle mass an individual can put on in a period of time.
So, beyond that, everything you eat is tilting the body composition ratio towards fat instead of muscle.
#2. There is a Thing Called Too Much Protein
According to the NHS, the daily recommended amount of protein intake is 55.5g for men and 45g for women.
However, in reality, most people eat way more than this during their bulking phase.
Well, eating too much protein has its own risks. The body can’t process too much of it and that can result in kidney stones. In fact, the risks are bigger for people with prior health conditions.
The bad news is it’s very easy to consume too much protein today than ever before due to easily accessible shakes, bars, and supplements.
#3. Binging and Crash Dieting
Overeating during the bulking phase can become a habit. Plus, a sudden hike in caloric intake is bound to lead to insulin resistance to some degree.
When the time comes around to switch back to the cutting phase, many people can actually struggle to manage their diet.
Not to mention, sudden changes in calorie consumption during cutting and bulking is not at all good for overall health.
Overeating can also lead to fatigue making it difficult to stay disciplined with the training schedule. This essentially fails the primary goal of calorie surplus in the first place.
#4. Psychological Effects of Bulking
While bulking, it’s more than common to gain some belly fat while putting on muscles on different body parts. While this may not be a big issue for men (or in some cases, it can be), women may react differently.
I personally don’t think most women want to get bulky in order to gain lean muscles. As a result, they might feel depressed and can’t wait to get to the cutting part.
Even worse, these feelings trigger them to overtrain in order to cut the added bulk in a short time.
#5. Cutting Fat without Losing Muscle Is Tricky
Well, calling it just tricky is an understatement.
Imagine you’ve gained about 30lbs after 3 months of relentless eating and training hard. About 21lbs of it is muscle and 9lbs are stored fat.
Now, you drop down to fewer calories per day while training even harder. You expect you’ll lose 9lbs while retaining 21lbs of the muscle mass.
Then, let me break the news to you. This is a very unlikely scenario. Your body simply doesn’t work like that.
#6. Rapid Cutting Alters Hormones
Rapid addition and cut in caloric intake are common during cutting and bulking. However, these kinds of sudden changes in eating habits may shock your system.
During the cutting phase, it’s not uncommon to feel more stressed out. This is usually the result of accelerated cortisol release due to overtraining while on a calorie deficit diet.
Further, sharp calorie drop also slows down the metabolism. Well, these complications are just too much to be worth investing your time in months’ long cutting and bulking cycles.
#7. Sharp Decline in Athletic Performance
Forget about bulking and cutting if you’re into any sort of athletics activity.
Athletic performance tends to drop with a drastic calorie cut and weight loss. These changes can be seen through decreased endurance and strength.
Nevertheless, this impacts the ultimate performance leading to dissatisfaction in other physical pursuits.
However, losing weight gradually is a much better approach for athletic people.
#8. Not Suitable for Every Age Group
Well, this goes without saying a 50-year-old man will not be able to go through cutting and bulking cycles as easily as a 25-year-old guy.
Moreover, the extremities involved in the Diet Plan for Bulking and Cutting are not at all suitable for an aged man.
And cutting cycles are of little use as it’s pretty much very hard to lose fat as you grow older.
In such a scenario, these men do need a better alternative to get their desired body shape irrespective of their age.
Evidently, cutting and bulking is not the most pleasing approach to muscle gain.
You might ask, then why does it work for bodybuilders?
Well, the guys you see on TV or in magazines are themselves not able to sustain such results for more than a week.
However, as their competition needs them to look a certain way, they follow these extreme measures for dramatic changes.
Though, on a general basis, this is neither healthy nor sustainable in the long run.
Are Bulking and Cutting Phases Necessary then to stack on muscles?
And here’s what you should rather be doing for better results round the year.
What You Can Do Instead to Gain Lean Muscle Mass?
What if I tell you there is a better and safer way to reconstruct your body the way you want?
The best part is this is well suited for men, women, and people of all age groups. Something that isn’t possible with Bulking and Then Cutting.
In fact, there are various terms that have been in existence for such a method, such as lean bulk, clean bulk, or slow bulk.
Though, all these terms revolve around the same premise. And that is to make gradual increases and eat only clean and nutritious food.
This is a better and more sane proposition when you consider the long-term effects and sustainability of the results.
Here are my tips to balance muscle gain and fat loss and make the most out of the time you invest.
#1. Find Your Caloric Sweet Spot
Well, as you need to put on lean muscle, you do have to train at least three times a week. And for that, you need enough nutrients in your body.
Most importantly, you need protein to allow your body to repair muscle tissues after training sessions.
The golden rule is to take just the right amount of calories to provide fuel for workouts while not gaining any fat.
The best way to go about this is to add in calories gradually so as to increase body weight by one to two percent per month.
While doing this, do train regularly every week and keep a check on body fat increments.
Moreover, the calorie increase should be in the form of fiber, good fats, and proteins.
Don’t make the rookie mistake of cutting out carbs entirely out of your diet. You do need carbs for your workouts which brings us to the next point.
#2. Choose Your Carbs Wisely
You need carbs mostly on the training days to benefit your workouts. You can consider dropping carbs consumption on non-training days, though.
The issue is most of us are taking more carbs per day than is required. That’s the main reason behind the rise in obesity cases.
Nevertheless, the basic idea is to find a balance that is compatible with your current exercise routine.
You can also try taking carbs 2-3 hours before workouts and then after workouts to make sure it’s efficiently used.
#3. Eat Enough Protein
Muscles are made up of protein. So, eating enough of it is crucial for muscle gain.
Muscle growth is the result of protein synthesis in the muscles as opposed to muscle protein breakdown.
So, your diet should have a fairly good amount of protein as compared to other nutrients.
Though, you have to keep a balance and distribute the consumption throughout the day. As previously mentioned, the overconsumption of protein does have its own side effects.
So, here’s a tip…
Try to keep protein levels up to 30% of your total caloric diet.
According to WebMD, medical research shows eating more than 30% protein of total daily calorie intake is actually harmful to health.
Additionally, it’s important to bump up your exercise levels when taking more protein and additional calories.
#4. Resistance Training At Least 3 Times a Week
The best way to put on muscle mass is to focus on exercises that are made to do just that. Thus, doing long cardio sessions is not going to help you here.
Instead, try to incorporate bodyweight training workouts each week. Compound movements, such as squats, deadlifts, and presses are meant to stimulate muscle growth.
Furthermore, try to practice exercises that engage big muscle groups to have the most benefit.
One other thing is to focus on heavier weights with about 5-7 reps per set. Higher rep training can also be done but it should always be with a weight that challenges you.
Don’t overdo and remember to take breaks on alternate days to let your muscles recuperate.
#5. Don’t Cut Out Fats from Your Diet
Eating healthy fats is crucial for maintaining cell structure and hormonal levels.
Though, inexperienced people following a cutting and bulking routine often make the mistake of eliminating fat from their diet.
Not only is this bad for your muscle gain it’s also bad for overall health and well-being. And just like the overall diet, you need to follow the same rules here of choosing healthy sources of fat.
So, no trans fat and fried foods or pre-packaged snacks to gain weight.
Resort to healthy sources, such as omega 3s, monounsaturated, and saturated fats.
Some very good options include salmon, walnuts, macadamia nuts, avocado, egg yolks, and coconut oil.
#6. Practice HIIT Over Other Forms of Cardio
One of the most common mistakes people make when they get to the cutting part is overdoing cardio to lose fat.
As cardio helps to burn calories that means it will help you lose the fat rapidly. Right?
Unfortunately, burning body fat isn’t as simple as just reducing calories.
This is what actually happens…
So, instead of long cardio sessions, a much better option is to perform HIIT about 2-3 times a week.
Do not do more than that as HIIT is an intense exercise form and your body needs rest.
Furthermore, HIIT has been shown to preserve muscle mass. This is yet another advantage while burning body fat.
So, before you think about following a tiring and overexerting bulking and cutting cycle, I would highly suggest you think about these sustainable ways to put on lean muscle mass.
This may take more time. But the results are long-lasting and you look and feel good all year, not just for a few weeks.
Now, here are the top 5 most asked questions by our readers.
Gaining Lean Muscle Mass: Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers addressing the most common queries of people in relation to burning body fat and bulking.
#1. How Much Should I Eat to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle?
Calorie intake usually depends on the current exercise routine and body weight. Plus, the exact amount of caloric intake will vary from person to person.
Though, here’s a rough estimate…
However, you can cut carbs consumption by .5 grams on non-workout days. But eat a balanced diet containing all the nutrients from good sources.
Further, make gradual changes to your diet. Don’t just go and add 1,000 calories at once.
Increments by a few hundred calories while monitoring weight gain is a better way to achieve realistic results.
#2. How Do I Lose Fat But Not Muscle?
- Maintain a calorie deficit
- Prioritize protein in your diet
- Strength train about 3 times a week, and
- Limit cardio
While a low-calorie diet will help you lose fat, maintaining a nutritious diet plan with enough protein will feed your muscles.
Further, don’t slack on weight training during this time.
And as mentioned in the blog, try to incorporate HIIT in your workout routines while focusing on resistance training to keep challenging your muscles.
#3. Should I Lose Fat Before Building Muscle?
Yes, this applies in the case when you’re overweight and not lean enough to bulk.
Let me explain to you the reason for this…
As you already have extra body fat, trying to bulk can add in more fat. This will technically make you feel demotivated.
So, these people should cut first before bulking:
- Men with more than 15% body fat percentage
- Women with a body fat percentage that is above 23%
Once men are in 10-15% body fat range (18-23% for women), they can start bulking.
And don’t forget to weight train even while you’re trying to lose weight. It will help build muscular strength and retain muscle.
In fact, beginners can even gain some muscle mass while doing this.
#4. Body Recomposition vs Bulking and Cutting – What’s the Difference?
Both of these are entirely different approaches to muscle building.
Recomposition is building muscle mass at a slightly slower rate but without any fat build-up. It mainly focuses on the diet plan.
You only bump up the calorie intake on training days as you also expend more energy on these days. Otherwise, you keep the calorie levels at break even on rest days.
This approach basically outlines the Difference between Cutting and Lean Bulking.
In other words, it’s more about bulking strategically rather than drastic cuts later on.
On the other hand, bulking and cutting focus on first piling up mass (muscle + fat) and then trimming only fat. This, we already know, is not a very practical approach.
#5. How Long Does It Take to Gain Muscle Mass?
This will vary depending on your nutrition plan and exercise schedule.
Most beginners with the right combination of these two should see improvements within 2 months. Experienced lifters are more likely to see changes within 1 month of starting a routine.
Though, to maximize muscle growth, follow the following tips:
- Split weekly training routine based on each muscle group twice per week
- Hydrate more and eat salads and green leafy vegetables
- Try challenging weights with fewer reps instead of a light weight and higher reps routine
- Attempt a full range of motion while exercising (squat as low as possible while maintaining form)
- Get in more sleeping hours
So, this brings this blog to closure. Hopefully, by now you have a good idea of what you need to be doing for long-term muscle gain.
Well, the key to lean muscle mass basically revolves around three things:
- Moderate changes in caloric intake
- Eating enough protein while balancing it with other micronutrients
- Strength training regularly with progressive overload on muscles
This may sound like too much to wrap your head around. But the real case is quite contrary!
Taking care of these steps is actually easier than following long cycles of cutting and bulking.
Making extreme changes without knowing if it will work out for you or not is a warning sign in and of itself.
Plus, eating more does not necessarily translate to faster muscle growth.
On the contrary, gaining muscle mass that’s going to last requires a more realistic approach and mindful changes.
Furthermore, consider this…
You may never be able to revert to a lean frame once the size and number of fat cells increase during the bulking phase.
So, the next time you think about going the traditional bodybuilding route, do evaluate your options and become more aware of healthier alternatives.
Now, your turn!
What do you think about bulking and cutting? Do you think the methods outlined in this blog are better and healthier?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments section right below!!