There’s a lot of different ideas out there about what should be done first when it comes to: Bulk vs Cut. Should you bulk first and cut later? Or cut first and bulk later?
For those who don’t know what bulking or cutting means, here’s a brief explanation: When you “bulk” you’re purposely trying to gain weight; ideally, this should be muscled weight thus you will also be gaining more strength. When you “cut” your intention is to lose weight; preferably fat.
So which should be done first? Bulking or Cutting? Honestly, it could be either one, it really depends on the individual person. There’s no “one size fits all” answer for this. With the many different body shapes there are out there, there’s no way to give one formula that will work perfectly for everyone.
Let’s go over some points that will help you decide which step you should take next on your journey.
When you bulk, like said before, your purpose is to gain as much muscle mass as possible. However, in this process you will inevitably gain fat along with your muscle mass. Fortunately, the amount of fat that is gained along with muscle can be minimized without affecting the amount of muscle you’re working on gaining.
When looking at bulking there are two different kinds of bulks: ‘Clean Bulk’ and ‘Dirty Bulk’. Regardless of which kind of bulk you’re looking at, they both require you to create a calorie surplus. This means you will be consuming more calories than what you’re used to.
So what’s a ‘Clean Bulk’ and a ‘Dirty Bulk’?
- Clean Bulk: This is when you try to minimize as much as possible the amount of fat you gain while packing on muscle mass. Typically, your high calorie diet will consist of complex carbohydrates like white rice, potatoes, whole wheat, quinoa and more; while also consisting of lean sources of protein like white fish, eggs, skinless chicken breasts and turkey, and more. Don’t forget good sources of fat like walnuts, soy milk and avocado that are also included.
- Dirty Bulk: This is the fun one for most of us. Your mission here is to gain as much muscle as possible at all costs. The amount of fat you gain in the process is doesn’t matter. In this case, your high calorie diet will consist of: EVERYTHING. The fat you gain in the process you’ll take care of after bulking. The downside to this method is that you can actually gain quite a bit of fat in the process.
Which type of bulk should we use? Truth is: there’s no right answer. As always, I take into consideration the amount of money we have available. Clean bulks are a lot more costly and if you don’t have the funds to take care of it sometimes a dirty bulk might look like the most viable option.
Disregarding money however, if you already have some muscle and fat packed, a dirty bulk might only make you look fatter. But if you’re the kind of person who struggles too much to gain anything at all, a dirty bulk wouldn’t be a bad idea for you.
Regardless of which one you choose, don’t over-do it because you’ll be gaining too much fat which isn’t the goal for any of us. But if you’re confident in your ability to lose it later on, go for it! But don’t forget that when you cut you will inevitably lose some muscle.
Cutting is a bit more simple than bulking; by ‘simple’ I don’t mean ‘easy’. When you cut, as said before, you want to lose as much fat as possible while minimizing the amount of muscle you lose. Unfortunately, when you cut, you do lose some muscles mass from what you’ve gained… but not all of it!
You can minimize the amount of muscle you lose by still keeping a high level of protein in your diet while reducing your calories therefore putting your body into a caloric deficit. In this case, you want to keep your lean meat intake at a high level while reducing the amount of carbs and/or fats you consume.
You also want to keep yourself working with heavyweight. Don’t stop training with heavyweight simply because you’re trying to lose fat. Yes, you do want to increase the amount of cardio you’re incorporating into your routine but DO NOT let go of the heavyweight training in your routine. If you do this the muscle you’ve gained will not be put into work and your body will therefore proceed to letting go of a lot of this muscle mass.
I’ll go more into detail over what to incorporate in your routine during a cutting season to lose fat while minimizing muscle loss on a different article.
What Should You Pay Attention To?
Are you a full on beginner? If you are, something you need to take into account is that no matter what your body looks like as a beginner, when you first start exercising (as long as you’re consistent) you will see differences.
You will lose a little bit of fat and gain a little bit of muscle. Unfortunately, even though this will happen, it will only happen at the beginning for a short period of time. Not far down the road, you will hit a plateau and need to make a decision on whether to bulk or cut.
Once you’re in this situation you need to look at your body and pay attention to two things
- How much fat do you have?
- How much muscle do you have?
There’s a term I like to use called “skinny-fat”. When you’re skinny-fat you’re not necessarily overweight but you have stubborn body fat in certain parts of your body (mostly your stomach) that you can’t get rid of. You may or may not have decent muscled size packed into your body.
If you’re skinny-fat and you go into a bulk, you may start to see more fat present in your body than you want. Though you may be gaining muscle, it won’t show up on your body as lean muscle. In the case of someone who is skinny fat, we have to go into specifics of body fat percentage. The more body fat you have the more body fat you’ll have when you are done with your bulking stage.
Also, higher body fat percentage in the beginning of your stage will increase your chances of storing more calories as fat throughout bulking than a lean person would. This is because your insulin sensitivity drops. Insulin is a hormone essential in your body for muscle building and fat burning.
When your insulin sensitivity drops your body becomes less efficient at burning fat and building muscle. Your estrogen levels also increase with higher body fat causing your testosterone levels to decrease. Testosterone is a muscle building hormone which also promotes body fat loss.
Who Should Do What?
There are benefits to both cutting and bulking first so let’s be precise with this, start with a clean bulk first if:
- you have less than 15% body fat (men)
- you have less than 25% body fat (women)
Start with cutting if:
- you have more than 15% body fat (men)
- you have more than 25% body fat (women)
When you cut or bulk, do either at about 4 to 6 week intervals, then switch to the other phase. Doing this in these short intervals allows you to stay consistent with your diet plan and to not give in to your cravings (especially during a cutting phase).
You might have noticed that I didn’t say anything about a dirty bulk in this section, this is because I rarely recommend a dirty bulk unless you:
- Don’t have the funds to purchase the foods for a clean bulk (but in this case, be very careful with your calorie surplus)
- Struggle way too much to pack any weight at all
If you don’t fit into either of these but you’re going to start with a bulk, make it a CLEAN bulk.
I know a lot of you are wondering how to even calculate your body fat percentage in the first place, so I put a link here to a body fat percentage calculator to help you out. You will need a tape measure for it, so be ready with that.
If you have any questions, you’re more than welcome to provide you feedback in the comment section below. Keep up the good work and good luck on your journey!