If you’ve been in the fitness world long, you’ve probably heard the terms “cutting” and “bulking” thrown around. These are especially common terms among bodybuilders and other competitors.
But what exactly is cutting and bulking? What are the key differences? And if you’re looking to perfect your physique, which should you do first?
As with any topic pertaining to fitness, there’s a lot to learn about the cutting phase and the bulking phase. But don’t worry, we’re here to help you understand the basics. Keep reading for everything you need to know about cutting vs bulking.
What is Bulking?
First, let’s define each of the two phases, starting with bulking. Bulking is when you attempt to significantly increase your lean muscle mass.
To accomplish this, you must consistently consume a surplus of calories. A surplus of calories gives your muscles the fuel they need to grow bigger and stronger. However, if you don’t want to put on extra fat, there’s a fine line between enough calories and too many calories.
Ideally, you should do a “clean bulk,” where you’re consuming a surplus of calories from healthy, whole foods. When people bulk using fast-food, pizza, milkshakes, and donuts, it often leads to a significantly higher body fat percentage.
It’s important to note that during the bulking phase, it’s likely that your body fat percentage will increase, regardless of how clean you’re eating. It’s a natural part of the process.
What is Cutting?
Now, let’s talk about cutting. The cutting phase is all about dropping body fat. Cutting is used for getting “ripped,” “shredded,” or “toned.”
Cutting is a vital part of bodybuilding competitions. It’s also commonly used a few months prior to summer or beach season. We all want to look good in our bathing suits, right?
Most people cut by putting themselves in a calorie deficit. In other words, they make sure they consume fewer calories each day than they’re burning.
In the cutting phase, it’s important to understand and accept that you will lose some of your lean muscle mass, as well as body fat. However, there are ways of mitigating muscle atrophy.
Cutting Vs. Bulking: Which Should You Do First?
So what’s better? Cutting, then bulking, or bulking, then cutting?
We recommend bulking first, then cutting. However, it also depends on why you’re cutting and bulking.
For example, if you want to look good for beach season and it’s already April, you better start cutting now. However, if your overall goal is to get more muscle mass and look good wearing it, regardless of timing, start with the bulking phase.
Bulking first will allow you to build substantial lean muscle mass. Then, during the cutting phase, you can shed your extra body fat to show off your hard work.
As bulking requires consuming a surplus of calories, few situations dictate cutting first. There’s no point in getting all ripped up if you’re about to bulk and add on a (hopefully) thin layer of fat.
Cutting vs Bulking Diet
Assuming you’re cutting and bulking using whole foods, your diet will differ in only a few ways. Here’s a brief outline.
First, as we already discussed, the bulking phase calls for a surplus of calories. You should aim for an extra 300 to 500 calories per day.
Don’t start out with too many calories or you’ll put on too much fat. However, if you don’t consume enough calories, your bulking results will be hindered. Spend a few weeks at 300 extra calories and adjust accordingly based on your results.
Additionally, your diet should consist of about:
- 30% protein
- 20% fat
- 50% carbohydrates
This is the ideal bulking macronutrient breakdown.
The cutting diet, as discussed, calls for a calorie deficit. It’s simple science (and math). To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you’re burning each day.
Doing so will force your body to call upon your fat stores for energy and fuel each day. However, once again, there is a fine line between not enough and too much.
If you give yourself too much of a calorie deficit, you may drop weight quickly, but at the risk of damaging your metabolism. This also comes with fatigue, moodiness, low energy, and muscle atrophy. Alternatively, not giving yourself a big enough calorie deficit will make losing the extra fat a slow process.
Once again, start with a 300-calorie daily deficit for a few weeks and monitor the results. Adjust accordingly. Just remember that a healthy weight loss strategy is only one to two pounds per week.
Your macro breakdown will be a little different than when you’re bulking:
- 45% protein
- 30% fat
- 25% carbohydrates
Despite many popular dieting techniques, it’s generally not a good idea to cut carbs out completely. This can lead to a slower metabolism and several other negative side effects.
Cutting and Bulking Supplements
When cutting and bulking, we recommend using workout supplements to boost your progress and results. For bulking, focus on strength and muscle-building supplements like:
- Protein powder
You may also want a weight-gainer powder to help you pack in enough calories during the day. These shakes can contain upwards of 1,000 calories or more. They are ideal for people who have trouble putting weight and muscle on.
When cutting, we recommend finding the best cutting stack. These typically help your body:
- Burn more fat
- Cut out water retention
- Maintain lean muscle mass
- And more
You may also want to look into a pre-workout supplement to help you feel more energized for workouts. Though you shouldn’t be doing any extreme dieting, even small caloric deficits can result in lower energy levels.
Bulking and Cutting Workouts
Finally lets’ talk about how your workouts will change when cutting vs bulking.
When cutting, you’re going to have less energy. Additionally, because you’re in a calorie deficit, you can’t expect to gain much strength or muscle mass. As such, your goal should be to preserve the lean muscle mass you already have.
Your workouts will be less intense. However, because of your calorie deficit, you may still feel just as worn out. This is not the time to be doing heavy sets or trying to set new one-rep maxes.
Furthermore, avoid long, endurance style cardio. Though this is a good way to burn extra calories, it will also ramp up muscle atrophy.
During the bulking phase, your workouts are all about performance. Each week, you should be using progressive overload theory to out-perform what you did last week. This could be more weight, more sets, more reps, or some combination of the three.
Your workouts should be intense. However, you should limit how much cardio you’re doing, as the goal is not to burn calories. Bulking is all about time in the weight room.
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