A beginner's guide to bulking and cutting
by Harry • 6 minutes read
Last updated: 01 Sep, 2023
Beginning a fitness journey involves much more than simply hitting the gym. To truly transform your physique and achieve your goals, understanding your diet is essential. Whether you're aiming for weight loss, muscle growth or a balance between the two, the bulk and cut cycle is a popular technique in the bodybuilding community to maximise efficiency on these journeys.
In this article, we'll delve into the world of bulking and cutting, providing you with the foundation needed to make informed decisions about your fitness journey.
Bulking and Cutting: The Basics
At its core, the bulking and cutting cycle is a strategy used by fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and bodybuilders to alternately build muscle and lose body fat. These phases are carefully planned to optimise the body's response to different goals.
What is Bulking?
Bulking is a diet and exercise scheme that involves eating in a calorie surplus to gain weight. The goal of bulking is to gain muscle mass, while minimising fat gain.
When bulking, it is important to strength train regularly. Strength training helps to stimulate muscle growth and development. You should aim to lift heavy weights for 8-12 repetitions per set. The ideal rep range will vary depending on individual body composition and experience in the gym.
To bulk effectively, you need to eat more calories than you burn each day. This can be done by eating more food, or by drinking high-calorie shakes or smoothies. You should also focus on eating plenty of protein, which is essential for muscle growth.
What is Cutting?
Cutting involves eating in a calorie deficit to lose weight. The goal of cutting is to lose fat, while maintaining muscle mass, and usually follows a bulk phase.
When cutting, it is important to continue strength training. Strength training helps to preserve muscle mass and boost your metabolism. You should aim to lift heavy weights for 4-6 repetitions per set.
To cut effectively, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn each day. This can be done by eating less food, or by increasing your physical activity. You should also focus on eating plenty of protein, which is essential for maintaining muscle mass.
Bulking Phase: Building Muscle
The bulking phase is perfect for those aiming to increase muscle mass and strength. During this phase, your body needs extra energy for intense workouts and muscle growth. To start a successful bulking cycle, remember these points:
Caloric Surplus: Consume more calories than your body burns. Aim for a moderate surplus of 250-500 calories above your maintenance level to fuel muscle growth while avoiding excessive fat gain. (1)
Protein Intake: Protein is vital for muscle development. Aim for 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight to provide necessary amino acids for growth and repair. (2)
Strength Training: Lift weights to failure between 8-12 reps to stimulate muscle growth and overall strength. (3)
Workout Routine: Create a structured workout plan targeting different muscle groups on different days. This aids recovery and prevents overtraining.
Cutting Phase: Losing Fat
After bulking, the cutting phase focuses on reducing body fat while preserving muscle. Effective weight loss without muscle loss requires careful planning:
Caloric Deficit: Consume fewer calories than you burn. Aim for a moderate deficit of 250-500 calories per day, achieved through diet and exercise, to minimise muscle loss. (4)
Body Fat Percentages: Track body fat with methods like skinfold measurements and biometric scales. This helps monitor progress and adjust caloric intake as needed.
Maintain Protein Intake: Adequate protein intake is crucial to preserve muscle mass and control appetite during cutting. (2)
Cardiovascular Exercise: Include activities like running or swimming to boost calorie expenditure, helping maintain your calorie deficit.
Transitioning Between Phases
Moving between bulking and cutting requires a gradual approach to avoid muscle loss during cutting and excess fat gain during bulking:
Slow Transitions: Gradually adjust calories and cardio when transitioning to prevent sudden shifts.
Reverse Dieting: After cutting, gradually increase calorie intake to prevent rapid fat gain.
Nutrient-Dense Foods: Prioritise nutrient-rich foods to support health, vitamins, and minerals essential for muscle growth and fat loss.
Hydration and Rest: Proper hydration and sleep aid recovery and hormone regulation, impacting muscle gain and fat loss. (7)
Each person's body reacts differently to bulking and cutting. Factors like metabolism and genetics play roles, so find your ideal balance:
Clear Goals: Decide if you want to build muscle, lose weight, or find a balance. Clear goals help tailor your approach.
Stay Adaptable: Be ready to change calorie intake and workouts based on your body's response.
Professional Advice: Seek guidance from fitness experts, nutritionists, or doctors, especially if new to bulking and cutting or with health concerns. Personalised plans enhance success.
Long Term Perspective: You will not be able to reach your goals over a week-long cycle of bulking and cutting. The effects of working out and diet changes take place over long periods of time. So, don't be disappointed if you don't see the effects of your hard work immediately.
Track your Calories and Macros: This will help you to ensure that you are eating in the correct calorie surplus or deficit. There are many mobile apps that significantly help with this process, but a popular one among gym and diet enthusiasts is MyFitnessPal.
Take Rest Days: It is important to give your body time to rest and recover, especially when you are bulking or cutting. If you are an experienced lifter, aim for 1-2 rest days per week. (8)
- Effects of Different Dietary Energy Intake Following Resistance Training on Muscle Mass and Body Fat - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6942464/
- Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566799/
- Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7927075/#:~:text=A%20low%20repetition%20scheme%20with,of%201RM)%20optimizes%20hypertrophic%20gains.
- Optimal Diet Strategies for Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8017325/
- The National Sleep Foundation's Sleep Health Index - https://www.sleephealthjournal.org/article/S2352-7218(17)30102-X/fulltext
- Study of the Effect of Stress on Skeletal Muscle Function in Geriatrics - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939594/
- The Role of Water Homeostasis in Muscle Function and Frailty - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723611/
- The Importance of Rest and Recovery - https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_importance_of_rest_and_recovery_for_athletes
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