No matter what your goal is – losing fat, or building muscle – the chances are you’ll hear the terms bulking and cutting. They refer to an ongoing cycle where the aim is to gain weight by building muscle (bulking), and then losing fat to become lean (cutting).
Bulking and cutting are essentially just ‘nothing terms’, a vague description of what is going on. Really, bulking is increasing calories to gain weight and build muscle, whereas cutting is decreasing calorie intake in order to lose fat.
As mentioned above, this is an ongoing cycle. You’re usually always in either a bulking or a cutting phase. The lengths of each phase differ, with some people switching weekly, whilst others switch every 4-5 months. Generally somewhere in the middle is recommended – e.g. A period of 2-12 weeks bulking, followed by the required amount of cutting to lose the fat gained during the bulking stage.
Let’s take a closer look at both stages:
As promising as it may sound, bulking doesn’t mean you can curl up on the sofa with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and immerse yourself in your favourite T.V. show.
It isn’t just a case of loading carbs and minimising cardio training either – you need to monitor carefully. Remember, you aren’t gaining weight for the sake of it. You want to be building lean muscle mass.
Recommendations of what and when to eat differ, but what is essential is that you require a caloric surplus. Ideally you want to be eating 5 meals a day, split by 3-4 hour breaks. Obviously you want to be having plenty of complex carbs, but this needs to be balanced with fats and proteins too.
Then it’s a case of keeping track of what you do in the gym. Every week you want to be monitoring your weight training to see if you are making progress.
Last, but not least, you need to remember to keep up with cardio workouts too. Endurance is a big no-no, you just want to make sure you’re doing short, but relatively intense cardio work.
Again, with cutting, it’s not like you want to be taking yourself to the borders of starvation. Yes you need to reduce your calorie intake, but you don’t have to go hungry. When cutting you want to be eating more regularly (e.g. every 2-3 hours), but you need to be eating smaller portions. You should be cutting the carbs in your meals, reducing the amount of potatoes or rice you eat, for example.
Arguably the biggest change you want to be making is in the gym. You need to be increasing the cardio work you do – both frequency and duration.
Just because you are cutting, doesn’t mean you should be lifting less. If you find yourself being unable to lift the same weights, it probably means the quality of your nutrition is poor. You’re trying to lose fat, not muscle mass.
Whether bulking or cutting, it is imperative that the quality of your nutrition doesn’t slip. Just because your bulking, you don’t want to be eating unhealthy foods, and if you’re cutting you don’t need to force yourself into nutrient deficiency.
You don’t have to do both stages if you don’t need to. Just because you’ve bulked doesn’t mean you have to cut, and vice-versa. As long as you stick to these key ideas then over time you will see an increase in muscle mass, and you will lose fat.
The team here at Ollie Lawrence Personal Trainer can help devise the perfect nutritional plan, tailored just for you. Whether you’re bulking or cutting, the team can cater for all your health and fitness requirements.