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Home » OSL Blog » Bulking vs. Cutting: How to Get Best Results

Bulking vs. Cutting: How to Get Best Results

November 15, 2019

Key Takeaways

  1. In bodybuilding, physique, and competitive sports, bulking and cutting are common phases that lifters and athletes put their bodies through.
  2. There are right and wrong ways to bulk and cut. You should eat clean and healthy during both phases and change up your exercise routine for each phase for the best results.
  3. Both men and women can benefit from bulking and cutting, though the time in each phase can look different for both.
  4. For most people who do not compete, bulking and cutting may not be the best thing. Instead, work on long-term goals to build muscle slowly with a healthy diet for sustainable results.

Bulking and cutting are two very different things that are done mostly by bodybuilders and athletes. They tend to bulk up to put on muscle and then cut down, usually before a big competition.

For the average person, there is really no need for bulking vs cutting. Why do we say this? First, let’s take a look at the definition of bulking and cutting:

  • Bulking – to eat at a caloric surplus to gain weight and/or muscle. This is typically done during the off-season.
  • Cutting – to eat at a caloric deficit to lose weight and/or muscle. This is typically done during the competition season.

Golden Era bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenneger and Samir Bannout knew how to prepare for competitions.

Samir Bannout in Competition form
Samir Bannout: Old School Ambassador

They, along with many others, using bulking and cutting to get their physique in top posing performance.

The average person doesn’t need to do either of these things to meet their goals. If they have a weight loss goal or one to bulk up, there are better ways to do it than bulking and cutting.

We’ll talk more about this in the first section.

Today, we will discuss the best ways to go about bulking vs cutting. These phases can be done no matter your fitness level, but beginners should be cautious.

Topics for today include:

  • Bulking and Cutting for Beginners
  • Doing both at the same time
  • Differences for females
  • Bulking vs cutting diet
  • Bulking vs cutting workout plan
  • Things to consider

Bulking and Cutting for Beginners

When it comes to bulking and cutting, you don’t want to do anything drastic as a beginner. Typically, bodybuilders and athletes have a short window to cut down after spending time bulking up.

Keep in mind, there is no standard when it comes to leaning vs bulking. In a six week period, one bodybuilder or weight lifter might need to add 10 pounds, another 30 pounds.

Due to the weight discrepancy, the plan for each will be wildly different to meet their intended goal.

Bulking and Cutting

Another thing – we are all individuals. That means we all have different:

  • Body types
  • Metabolisms
  • Genetics
  • Potential health imbalances (insulin, hormone, etc.)

Plus, consider your diet. That plays a big role in how much weight gained is distributed between fat and muscle. When it comes to bulking, there are various different terms and ways to do it:

  • Clean bulk – sticking to a healthy food diet, eating “clean”
  • Dirty bulk – eating whatever you want, including junk and processed foods
  • Lean bulk – eating to stay lean while trying to bulk up in muscle
  • Slow bulk – taking it slow to bulk up gradually over time
  • Fast bulk – working rapidly to increase bulk
  • Permabulk – continuously being in the bulking phase without going into the cutting phase

If you want to bulk up properly, then you should focus on slow and clean bulking. While you can’t target how much muscle and fat you add on, increasing gradually will provide the best results.

And doing it with a healthy diet rather than just eating anything will decrease the amount of body fat added.

Why does it matter how much you gain in body fat and muscle? Let’s take a look at the science behind bulking and cutting.

The Science of How Bulking and Cutting Effects the Body

When you’re in the bulking phase, you aren’t just eating, you’re exercising as well. For some, that means they are working out much more than they were before. For others, they are maintaining a less strict and grueling schedule.

Man Lifting Tire

Again, when it comes to bulking and cutting, it’s highly individualized and tailored to the person and goals.

When it comes to building muscle mass, your body has to increase the size of each muscle cell. In order to do this, the satellite cells fuse to the muscle fibers to give their nuclei to the muscle cells.

More nuclei = greater muscle hypertrophy (growth).

Now, while you’re working on building muscle, you’re going to gain fat as well when bulking.

As your body fat increases, so does the number of fat cells in your body. When you get into the cutting phase, the number of fat cells doesn’t decrease.

For many, this can cause issues when cutting.

Incline Dumbbell Flyers

Some can find it harder to lose body fat, while others can struggle with the calorie deficit. Some may binge or completely derail the cutting phase, especially if they adhered to dirty bulking.

For these reasons and more, many believe that bulking and cutting are a myth. Many believe you don’t need to bulk then cut, and instead, you can do both at the same time.

Bulking and Cutting at the Same Time

Yes, you can bulk and cut at the same time. But there are some things to keep in mind when working on both phases at once.

  • You won’t lose muscle at the same rate as you lose fat
  • You won’t replace the same amount of muscle as you lose in fat
  • You’ll lose fat faster than you’ll gain muscle

If you are looking for sustainable results, then you’ll need to sit down and create a timeline with goals. It will take several months or more to gain any more than five pounds of muscle.

Workout Calendar

Some people may find that bulking and then cutting works better for them. While others may find that taking the amount of time for both phases and doing them together works better.

If you choose to do bulking and cutting phases, just do it smartly so that you can achieve your goals.

Bulking and Cutting for Females

Females can definitely get benefits from bulking and cutting, depending on their goals. For many women, the bulking phase is harder than the cutting phase.

This is mainly due to societal pressure to be thin, no matter your body type and shape. Being thin is impossible for somebody types, and that’s totally okay.

Women also generally tend to be much more critical of themselves, especially when it comes to body fat.

Woman Drinking Protein

When it comes to bulking, you’ll want to focus on clean bulking. There is no way around gaining some fat while bulking, but adhering to a healthy diet will minimize it.

Also remember, men, gain muscle faster and easier than women, largely due to testosterone levels. Don’t get discouraged if you are in the bulking phase longer than you anticipated.

Taking your time to get your muscle gains before you cut will help you in that phase. You’re going to lose some muscle tone when cutting, so the more you build in the bulking phase the better.

Now, let’s take a look at diet and workout plans for each phase.

Bulking vs Cutting Diet

When it comes to your diet, it’s going to look different depending on whether you are bulking or cutting. Regardless of whether you are bulking vs cutting, you need to remember to consume adequate protein.

As we age, we naturally lose skeletal muscle protein.

Losing skeletal muscle protein can also happen with inactivity, where the muscle atrophies and starts to break down. To combat this deterioration and promote muscle growth, we need to supply our bodies with proper protein.

This is why it’s so important to provide our bodies with protein after a workout. For a long time, whey protein has been the go-to supplement to help with satellite cell proliferation and muscle regeneration.

Vintage Brawn
Old School Labs Vintage Brawn™

However, you should consider a more complete protein blend like Vintage Brawn™. It includes the Big Three: beef, egg, and milk protein, which includes both casein and whey.

You’ll also get a complete amino acid profile to help build muscle mass long after your workout ends.

Bulking Diet

To make sure that you gain enough weight in muscle and not fat, you’ll need to clean bulk for the best results.

Beginners have the advantage of being able to gain more muscle quicker than seasoned lifters. Still, don’t expect to gain more than a pound or so each month of new muscle mass. This amount is even less in seasoned lifters.

Diet Calculations

Now, when it comes to the diet, many put on too much body fat by eating too many calories in the bulking phase. The best way to know the number of additional calories to eat is to do some calculations.

By determining the minimum amount of calories you need to consume in a day, you have a starting point. This number is your energy requirement.

Generally, you want to increase your calories by 250 – 500 daily when bulking. Start at the lower end and then determine if you need to increase from there.

Make sure you are:

  • Getting enough protein to rebuild your muscles and promote growth
  • Getting enough carbs and fat to sustain your energy
  • Don’t forget fueling properly after your workout
  • Get enough sleep to support muscle recovery and rebuild

If you need help with those percentages, this guide can help. Consider how the Golden Era greats ate to build their impressive muscle mass.

Cutting Diet

Just like bulking, you’ll want to eat clean if you want to cut down. While your diet will change to reduce calories, you need to keep your macros in check so you don’t crash.

Keep your fat ratios higher than you may think, up to 30% of your diet. This can help keep your hormones in check while your body uses the fat you’ve stored as fuel.

You don’t want to forget about your carbs and protein though, for the same reasons in the bulking section. It’s even more important to fuel your body properly in the cutting phase.

You’re reducing your calories, and not doing this correctly can cause you to:

Regardless of what phase you are working on, you may need some help getting your diet plan together. Check out our nutrition library where we discuss different diet options to help you find the best one for you.

Bulking and Cutting Workout Plan

Your workout routine will look different depending on which phase you are working through. While diet is more important, working your body to build muscle and then cut fat will help you achieve results.

First, we’ll take a look at what working out will look like when bulking. Then, we’ll see what changes when cutting.

Bulking Workout Plan

When in the bulking phase, you’ll be focusing on weight lifting more than cardio. After all, the whole point of bulking is to be able to build up muscle mass.

When it comes to bulking, take advantage of the fact that you’re putting on body fat too. You can build more muscle when there is fat to burn than when you have lower body fat in general.

Strong Man Lifting Barbell

You don’t necessarily want to train to failure, but you need to get in an adequate amount of reps and sets. Spend at least three days lifting weights, up to five depending on the goals you are trying to meet.

While cardio shouldn’t be your focus, you don’t want to ignore it completely. Cardio can keep the body fat increase minimal while you are focusing on strength training.

When choosing cardio, consider altering between steady-state and high-intensity workouts. HIIT can take less time than steady-state and produce better results. Plan to spend one to two days a week doing cardio.

Woman Lifting Barbell

For women who are just starting out lifting weights or aren’t seasoned yet, consider our beginner bodybuilding program.

Many of these exercises can be performed at home to build confidence and a foundation to start at the gym.

Regardless of how you set up your workout plan each week, make sure you get at least one full rest day. This is essential for muscle recovery and growth.

Cutting Workout Plan

Once you enter the cutting phase, you’ll have to change up your workout plan along with your diet. You focused heavy on lifting to build up muscle mass and strength, now’s the time to get rid of body fat.

You want to increase your cardio while decreasing your weight lifting. Opt for lighter weights and more reps on days that you do weight lift. Keep your lifting days to no more than three.

Man Exercising with Ropes

When it comes to cardio, you’ll want to do three to five days depending on the amount of fat to lose. High-intensity cardio is going to be better than steady-state for a few reasons:

  • It challenges you more
  • You can do it in less time
  • The intensity will increase your resting metabolic rate (RMR) for longer periods of time
  • You’ll burn more calories and fat compared to steady-state cardio alone

HIIT has also been shown to increase testosterone levels, which can help build muscle even in the cutting phase. If you like steady-state cardio, make sure it gets into your calendar each week.

This is your journey, your diet and workout goals will be different than everyone else.

HIIT workouts - running

Set a realistic timeline for the cutting phase. Start out basing on the amount of body fat you want to lose. Shoot for no more than one percent of your body weight, realistically a half percent is more likely.

Expect that this phase can take longer than the bulking phase. Especially if you have a considerable amount of body fat to lose.

Take pictures to document the journey, as pictures and measurements can be more telling than weight alone.

Things to Consider Before Bulking and Cutting

If you are determined to use the bulking and cutting phases to reach your goals, consider these first.

Food is fuel

Making healthy food options will fuel your body properly in both phases to help you achieve the results you are after. A cheat day every now and then is permissible, but dirty bulking will make it hard to reach cutting goals.

Hunger happens when cutting

Be prepared to be hungry more in the cutting phase than the bulking phase.

After all, you’re going from a calorie surplus when bulking to a calorie deficit when cutting. Reduce your calories gradually so that you transition easier.

This will be mentally and physically challenging

Men and women alike go through mental, emotional, and physical challenges when phasing.

Man tired on bench

Your body needs time to adapt to the new normal as it changes. Be kind to yourself. Create a reward system if needed, but never use food as a reward.

Plan, plan, plan

When bulking and cutting, you are going to be dedicating months of your life to the phases. The best way to achieve results is by planning. Create a meal plan and meal prep for success.

Make a weekly workout routine you know you can stick to. Mix up your routine so you don’t get bored or want to skip a workout.

Inspire and motivate yourself

Inspiration works differently for everyone: place notes with inspiring quotes around your place. Put up photos of attainable goal bodies to keep you motivated.

Listen to your favorite podcasts while meal prepping or working out.

If you commit to bulking and cutting, the only way you will see the results you want is to see it through. Consider getting an accountability partner who can keep you motivated and following your plan.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, you can still choose to bulk and cut if you feel it’s needed. While this should be left to the professional bodybuilders and weight lifters, anyone can do it.

Whether you choose to do the bulking vs cutting phases or both, make sure you are doing it properly. Slow and steady is the best way to go so that your body has time to adapt to the changes properly.

Man's chest muscles

Make sure you create a realistic timeline for each phase and change your diet and workout plan accordingly. Check-in without yourself regularly and make adjustments as needed.

As we’ve said a few times in this article, we’re all individuals, so what works for others may not work for you.

Ultimately, you might find that working in phases doesn’t suit you. It might be better to have a long-term lifestyle plan that includes a workout routine and diet plan. As your body changes, you can adapt where necessary.

Remember the realities of bulking and cutting, and go into it knowing the signs that you might need to back off.

Bodybuilders have trained professionals who monitor them closely to make sure they are safe throughout the process.

What do you think about bulking vs cutting? Is this something you do to reach your goals, or do you have a long-term plan in place instead? Let us know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: None of the individuals and/or companies mentioned necessarily endorse Old School Labs or COSIDLA Inc. products or the contents of this article. Any programs provided for illustration purposes only. Always consult with your personal trainer, nutritionist and physician before changing or starting any new exercise, nutrition, or supplementation program.
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Old School Labs™ is the maker of premium supplements that carry on the fitness values of the “Golden Era” of bodybuilding. Old School Labs™ products do not hide behind proprietary blends, contain no artificial sweeteners or artificial flavors, and are manufactured using only high-quality ingredients.

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