Bulking and Cutting Myth

In the muscle magazines you always hear about ‘bulking’ up then ‘cutting’ down before a contest, should you do this too? Probably not.  Professional bodybuilders and very advanced bodybuilders (those who have been lifting seriously more than 7 years) benefit from bulking cutting but in my opinion, beginners and intermediates do not.    In fact, there are many disadvantages for beginners and intermediates.  Wild weight swings are not good for your body.   Obesity is an epidemic in the western world and most beginners and intermediates are no exception.  The last thing an overweight or obese beginner should be encouraged to do is to “bulk”!  Even more important for a beginner or intermediate bodybuilder than learning to lift weights is to learn what good nutrition is and being able to control their bodyfat levels.   There is no reason at all that a beginner or intermediate bodybuilder cant gain muscle AND lose fat at the same time with good nutrition, weightlifting and cardio.  It is much easier (and healthier) to keep your body fat low year-round than it is to pig out for a few months and then have to diet for 4 months to get all the fat back off.  Why not be ripped all the time rather than just one month a year????? It’s easier, better for your body, looks better, AND its easier – who likes dieting anyway!

Bulking without Cutting is just being FAT

If you do decide to do bulking and cutting, please remember that bulking without cutting is just being FAT and nutritionally lazy.  To have the bulking phase help you gain muscle you need to be at a caloric surplus which means you are *gaining* fat.  If you just maintain a high fat level it does you no good whatsoever in your attempt to gain muscle.  Also remember that in rough terms, every week that you run a 20% caloric surplus is a week that you need to cut at a 20% caloric deficit.

OK, here’s the basic problem.  Adding muscle is a very slow process (see muscle gain expectations), its the dirty little secret of fitness that nobody is willing to talk about.  There are newbie gains and teen growth spurt gains, but 10lbs of muscle gain a year is about all that most mature adults can expect.  Americans spend millions on all kinds of products that promise to deliver more than this but all that happens is their wallets get lighter.

“How do I gain weight?”

This is a question I hear all the time which shows how confused many people are.  Weight gain is NOT the same as muscle gain!   Many people want to see that fast weight gain so they eat like pigs and fool themselves into thinking that its all muscle when a lot of what they have gained is fat.  If a 180 pound person with 15% bodyfat bulks and goes up to 200 pounds at 18% bodyfat there will be almost no visual difference in leanness so they will think their bulk was “all muscle” when in fact they gained 9 pounds of fat and only 11 pounds of muscle.  Adding 3% bodyfat is only visually apparent when your bodyfat is very low to start with, say under 6%.   There is only one way to know how much muscle you have added and that is to chart your bodyfat and weight daily (see measuring progress), anything else is just a guess.  Added weight can be fat or muscle, if you just want to weigh more then eat twinkies and skip the bodybuilding – its much easier.  If you want to gain muscle, there is no shortcut.  Hit the weights and use good nutrition. Below is my rather sarcastic video about bulking:

A fairly widely agreed upon value for the amount of protein a bodybuilder should eat is 1g protein per pound of bodyweight per day, so 180g protein for a 180lb bodybuilder. Eating more protein than this will NOT build your muscles faster. Consuming more calories than you expend will NOT build your muscles faster either unless as I mention you have been seriously training more than 7 years and are very near your genetic max.  What I find is that its people with really sloppy nutrition are the ones who claim that you have to gain fat to gain muscle, its because their nutrition is so awful! Yes, if you get your protein from pizza and cheeseburgers then you will go way over your caloric budget in order to get your required 180g protein and end up getting fat in the process!

So, how to gain muscle?  Workout with incredible intensity (but don’t overtrain), sleep lots, and have proper nutrition. Proper nutrition?  In a nutshell, here’s what you need.  Protein every 2-3 hours from the moment you wake up till the moment you go to bed.  Total protein approx 1g per pound of bodyweight per day so a 180lb man would have 180g protein per day (30g protein per meal, 6 meals).  OK, that’s only 720 calories but a 180 lb man needs 2700 calories a day to maintain weight (2200cals to lose a pound fat per week), what should you eat for those other 2000 calories?  Well, technically you could eat twinkies and a vitamin pill and you would be fine.  Several problems with that approach, first twinkies are not very filling (no fiber) and you would find you had to eat much more than 2000 calories of twinkies to feel satisfied which would make you FAT.  The best thing to eat for those 2000 calories are things that are high in vitamins and fiber, things like vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains.  If you use these things for those 2000 calories you will find yourself so full that it would be easy to reduce by 500cal/day and thereby lose a pound of fat a week without affecting your muscle growth.  Note however that this only works with slight caloric reductions (like the 500cal/day reduction suggested above).  If you do a drastic caloric reduction, your ability to add muscle will be hindered – malnourished people cant add muscle.