Should you bulk or cut?

For many people, it can be hard to decide whether to bulk or cut. Oftentimes people will try to do a bit of both and end up ultimately getting nowhere fast. But if we set up some parameters and guidelines it becomes quite easy to determine whether you should bulk or cut.


I've put together a reference guide to bulking and cutting that covers the why, when, and how. If you don't feel like reading a bunch of information and just want the nuts and bolts, scroll down until you see the table.


Bulking Defined

  • Period of increased caloric intake used to gain weight

  • Calorie increases should be incremental and strategic

  • The primary goal is to add lean body mass while limiting fat gain

Bulking is NOT

  • An excuse to eat whatever you want “I’m bulking bro”

  • An excuse to get fat

Cutting Defined

  • Period of decreased caloric intake used to lose weight

  • Calorie decreases should be incremental and strategic

  • Primary goal is to lose fat and preserve lean body mass

Cutting is NOT

  • Doing lower weights and higher reps

  • Doing only cardio

  • Eliminating carbs

  • Eliminating fats

When To Bulk

  • Above 20% body fat for males and 30% for females there will be an increase in inflammation and insulin resistance causing favorable nutrient partitioning to decrease

  • The leaner you are when you start a bulk the more likely you will add favorable ratios of muscle to fat

  • Starting a bulk with too much body fat will likely yield more fat gains than lean mass

Wrap up

  • Males- bulk if 8-12% body fat (up to 15-17%)

  • Females- bulk if 18-22% body fat (up to 25-27%)

Bulking Guidelines

  • 10-20% increase in calories above maintenance

  • 1-1.5g protein per lb

  • .3-.7g fat per lb

  • 1-3.0g+ carbs per lb

  • The rate of gain should be .25-.5% of body weight per week depending on experience. Novice lifters will be closer to .5% of body weight gained per week while advanced lifters will be closer to .25% of body weight gained per week

  • For general health, I suggest a base cardio level at 1-3 sessions per week 15-20 minutes. This will keep your cardiovascular system in better shape and allow a slightly higher food intake

  • The faster you gain the more likely you will gain an unfavorable and disproportionate amount of fat relative to lean tissue

When To Cut

  • Below 10% body fat for males and 18% for females there may be a decrease in hormone production

  • Optimal testosterone levels in men are shown between 10-12% body fat

  • Optimal estradiol levels in women are shown between 23-25% body fat

Wrap up

  • Males- cut if 15-20+% body fat (down 8-12%)

  • Females- cut if 25-27+% body fat (down to 18-22%)

Cutting Guidelines

  • 20-30% calorie reduction below maintenance

  • 1-1.5g protein per lb

  • .3-.7g fat per lb

  • 1-3.0g+ carbs per lb

  • .5-1.0% loss of body weight per week

  • Cardio would be systematically increased from bulking base levels. For example, if you were doing 20 minutes x 3 during your bulk, simply adjusting up to 30 minutes x 3 would be a good place to start. I personally like doing more cardio to allow higher food intake during a cut.

  • The faster you lose the more likely you are to lose lean tissue


Quick Reference Table

​PHASE

​START BF%

​END BF%

CALORIES

RATE OF CHANGE PER WEEK

​Bulk

8-12% BF men

 

18-22% BF female

15-20% BF men

 

25-30% BF female

10-20% above maintenance

​.25-.5% gain per week

​Cut

​15-20% BF men

 

25-30% BF females

8-12% BF men

 

18-22% BF female

20-30% below maintenance

5. - 1% loss per week


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