It’s an age old fitness question: should I bulk up, or should I cut and lean out? For the majority of guys, this leads to an endless cycle that they never end up escaping. You see it happen all around you in your gym – a guy starts at a quasi-fit 180 lbs, loads up on supplements, weight gainers, and enough groceries to feed a small village, packs on 20-25 lbs of primarily fat, then starts a cut and gets down to a quasi-fit, kind of soft and fluffy 190. Then he starts another bulk followed by another cut and goes on like this perpetually until the end of time. Well as they say; new year, new you. And today we’re going to talk about how you can shatter this endless cycle and head toward the fittest and healthiest version of yourself in 2017.
The Issue With The Bulk/Cut Cycle
The big problem is constantly missing the target. The truth of the matter is that most guys are going to go through a bulk and cut cycle and end up right back where they started, probably even with a higher body fat percentage than they began with. To add that extra weight you have to consume a higher number of calories to create a calorie surplus, and from experience I can tell you that it becomes uncomfortable and annoying, and leaves you stuck feeling constantly full and bloated. You inevitably put on fat weight – with the intention of shedding it later – and you’re left feeling kind of gross.
And during all of this, one fundamental fact is typically overlooked and ignored – weight doesn’t equal muscle. If you’re brand new to lifting, you might be able to slap on 15-20 lbs of lean muscle in a year, and that’s because of standard beginner gains. The sudden shock of weight training stimulus to your nervous and muscular system causes you to see rapid and more dramatic results. But for anyone other than a novice, such gains are nearly impossible. If you’ve already got three or four years of weight training under your belt, studies show that you are going to max out at around 5-10 lbs of new lean muscle growth per year. So when these gym bulkers eat at a calorie surplus and put on 15 lbs in four months, you have to remember that the majority of it is fat weight and not raw muscle growth.
But it’s ok, because you’re going to get shredded during your cut, right? Well the cutting phase means calorie restrictions, staying in a caloric deficit, and depriving yourself of any and all enjoyable foods. Want to feel cranky, hungry, and irritable? Go through a cut, amigo. It’s also important to bear in mind that most guys don’t cut down to where they want or need to be, and while they drop their body fat percentage a bit, they still end up with extra pounds they don’t want.
So in the end guys spend half the year bulking and half the year cutting, and when it’s all said and done, they’re in an endless cycle of gaining and losing the same weight over and over.
Break The Cycle
Instead of bulking and cutting over and over and spinning your wheels, why not aim to maintain a healthy and fit lifestyle year round? If you can find a solid balance of lean muscle mass with a low body fat percentage, my personal suggestion is to stay in maintenance mode and make minor tweaks to your physique and nutrition as needed or desired. This eliminates the weight fluctuations, over-consumption followed by crash dieting, and being in a constant state of flux.
But when you do want to adjust your physique, how do you add some muscle while maintaining a low and healthy body fat percentage? It’s been made to appear a lot harder than it actually is. There is a commonly perpetuated myth within the world of health and fitness that you can’t gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. It’s easy to see why it has stuck, though: if you plan on bulking and slapping on a bunch of weight over the course of four or five months, you’re never going to control your body fat percentage or lean muscle growth very well. And on the flip side, if you’re crash dieting and restricting your calorie intake to dump a bunch of weight and shred up, you can’t really worry about increasing your muscle growth. What you can do, however, is choose the long and sustained approach, and with this concept you can actually add lean muscle and lose body fat.
How? Through a lean bulk.
How To Do A Proper Lean Bulk
Lean bulking is not for the impatient, however. Its key lies in patience and proper nutrition, and understanding how our bodies actually work. So we know we need a calorie surplus in order to gain muscle, but what most people fail to realize is how small of a surplus is actually necessary to stack on muscle growth. A lot of guys will start eating 600, 700, 800 calories over maintenance and create a massive caloric surplus, and very quickly start gaining weight and increase their body fat percentage. In a great article from ThinkEatLift.com on lean bulking, they explain that “…It’s like a worker building a house. He won’t build the house faster if you give him more materials than he can use. In fact, the unused materials will just pile up around the house – just as body fat will pile up around the muscle.”
So what’s the magic number? It’s going to vary depending on your body and your goals, but generally speaking for a good lean bulk, you only need around 300 calories over maintenance to start creating new lean muscle mass growth and minimize fat gain.
Simply use your handy online BMR calculator to find your maintenance calorie level, then shoot for around 300-350 extra calories over that number each day. And remember some of our basic macronutrient breakdowns; for a lean bulk you want about 1g of protein per pound of goal body weight, around 20-25% of your calories should come from healthy fats, and the rest of your calories should be coming from carbohydrates (aim for the good, whole carbs like potatoes, beans and nuts, and whole grains, and avoid the refined carbs like artificial sweeteners, pastries, white breads, etc.) If done right, you can actually slowly but steadily add lean muscle mass while keeping your body fat percentage in check.
And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen – the smart way to break the bulk/cut cycle in 2017. So go forth armed with this knowledge, and one up yourselves in this new year!