One of the main principles of bodybuilding is bulking up to gain muscle and then cutting to lose excess fat. With this article, we’ll tell you more about each phase and how to do them properly.
There is one major difference between both phases. Bulking is where you gain muscle while minimizing fat gains. Cutting is when you lose fat while minimizing muscle loss. You can see that both phases are about controlling and balancing your muscle mass and fat levels.
The following is a better look at the basics so you can fully understand each phase.
The Differences Between Bulking and Cutting
You need to take things slow to bulk properly. There’s no need just to increase how much you eat right away to get the muscles that you want. While it is true that you need to eat more than you usually do to gain mass, you should start out lightly.
Slowly increase how much you eat and eat just enough to fuel your workouts, increasing your exercise and food intake each week. Eating too much food without working it all out will just turn all that food into fat. Bulking is about gaining muscle, not fat.
The key to not gaining as much fat during a bulking phase is fat burning cardiovascular exercises. You should still be careful with cardio, though. Too much cardio means too little muscle mass. Mix a few short but intense cardio workouts into your strength training to keep fat down and muscles up.
Most people find that throwing in a 10-15 minute cardio workout every three days is good for them. Start out with a slow warm-up and then finish it off with short, intense bursts. The cutting phase involves a lot more cardio workouts. This cycle has proven to be effective for a lot of bodybuilders who want to gain muscle without gaining fat during the bulking phase.
The fundamental difference in your diet between cutting and bulking, outside of calories, is the amount of carbs you eat. Bulking involves eating more complex carbs, so you need to be eating more brown rice, oats, sweet potatoes, and other foods of that ilk.
Bean, especially black beans, are a great addition to the bulking diet because they have protein as well as complex carbs. While you are cutting, you need to cut out all of those complex carbs. You can slowly cut down on them until there are none left in your diet too rather than going cold turkey.
Both diets involve the same levels of protein and fat as the main focus of the diet is to control insulin levels. Insulin will help you gain weight during a bulking phase while reducing insulin levels naturally through a diet helps you lose fat during the cutting phase.
Just in case you didn’t know insulin as an anabolic hormone. It’s released when carbs enter the bloodstream. Carbs trigger your body and make it take the nutrients from the carbs and process and store them. They can either be stored as muscle or fat. This kind of thing is beneficial in the bulking phase but can negatively impact a cutting phase.
Protein is essential during the bulking phase, but carbs are even more important. Protein is used to build muscle, but carbs are used for muscle sparing. Eating more carbs allows you to eat less protein while still growing muscles. You should mix up the source of your carbs and eat plenty of grainy unrefined/unprocessed starchy carbs along with plenty of veggies.
While it’s true that you will undoubtedly gain some weight during the bulking phase, this fat works to allow you to lift more weights and turn the fat into muscle.
Cutting is different in that you need to be able to resist the urge to eat fatty and starchy foods and stick to the veggies instead. While cheating on a bulking diet won’t do a lot of damage, it can destroy a cutting diet. During the cutting phase, you’ll find yourself in a caloric deprivation where you take in about 500 less calories than is recommended for a person your size (the BMR and TDEE).
The result is that the meals you eat will be a lot smaller and more convenient to carry around with you. You should also eat more often during a cutting phase, as odd as that is. You should be eating once every few hours to keep your metabolism working all through the day and burning calories. During a cutting phase, you could find yourself forgoing the old “three square meals a day” in favor of eating 8-10 smaller meals.
During the cutting phase, you need to be doing cardio exercise to bolster your cardiovascular system and keep your metabolism going strong. Cardio should be done as much as possible throughout the cutting phase. The standard option is to do a 30-45 minute cardio workout every other day. You could get away with doing it every third day, though, as with the bulking diet.
You should find cardio activities that you enjoy doing like a sport. Try to switch up your cardio workouts and do a variety of them too. This will also help you lose weight.
There is no difference in the amount of weight training you need to be doing in both phases.
By now you’re probably wondering how long you should be doing a cutting or bulking phase. The fact of the matter is there is no single answer. Some people say you should bulk and cut for one day each while others will say you should do six months of each. You can make your phases as short or long as you want. The important thing is that you do them long enough to reach your goals.
A basic recommendation is bulking for a few months and then cutting until you get rid of all the fat from the bulking phase.
- Eat a diet consisting of clean foods and complex carbs – eating a meal every 3-4 hours
- Avoid cheating and overeating
- Eat meals with balanced amounts of protein, carbs, and fat
- Eat five meals a day
- Monitor your strength training to know if you’re improving – lift a little extra weight each week
- Eat small meals every 2-3 hours
- Cut out carbs
- Eat less calories than you need (made easier by cutting out carbs)
- Do harder and longer cardiovascular workouts
- Avoid losing weight too quickly – aim for small but consistent weight losses. If you notice that the amount of weight you can lift is going down then increase your nutrient intake a little as you’re losing muscle – the opposite of what you want to do
I hope this helps get some newbies started on cutting and bulking!
Just a word of warning, though; the advice in this article is aimed at people with common characteristics. Your unique body characteristics (such as being short or tall, altered metabolism) may mean you need to get help from a professional trainer to find the right bulking/cutting phase for you.