Here we go with the 1 million dollars question: should I cut or should I bulk?
This is the moment in which all of a sudden, perfectly normal and healthy people get body dysmorphia.
Skinny people will be able to see a layer of body fat on their lower abs or hips that nobody else, even their worst enemy, can see.
Chubby ones can clearly point out a six pack while looking in the mirror while even their best friends claim "you're fat, bro.".
Body dysmorphia is a real thing. The way we perceive our bodies in relation to our mental models of what's buff and what's ripped can play incredible magic tricks on us!
Deciding whether to cut or bulk is something that needs to be pondered about and not taken lightly.
It's not much a big deal if you cut when you should not. In this case what will happen is just that you might get in bodybuilding contest shape even if you don't have any bodybuilding contest to prepare for. You're such a high achiever!
The problem is if you bulk when you clearly shouldn't.
If your body fat percentage is too high, bulking is the worst idea ever.
Let's see why.
Why You Shouldn't Bulk If You Are Too Fat
When you carry extra fat your body is raising tons of red flags. And these red flags are called inflammation.
"...well, I can take ibuprofen right??..."
Nope. First of all, taking anti-inflammatory drugs will make you gain less muscles (study).
Secondly you are putting a band-aid instead of solving the cause of the problem.
Which is the fact that you are fat.
What's Wrong With Fat And Inflammation
When you have inflammation and extra body fat in your body these things will happen:
- More amino acids are burned for energy than fat (study). Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins. If you are destroying amino acids for energy, well, guess who is not increasing his/her muscle mass. So ironically, a body that could use more fat for energy, uses more amino acids. This is not good.
- Lower testosterone production. This will make it more difficult to build muscles and recover (study). Basically "How To Waste Time In The Gym 101".
- Increased cortisol. This has a ton of negative effects: higher stress, more emotional eating, higher injury risk, slower recovery and muscle repairing (study), less strength gains, and to make things even worse, the visceral fat will increase making your belly bigger (study). This is "How To Fail At Life 101".
- Lowered TEF (study). You'll burn less calories to digest food lowering your caloric requirements and making the bulking even worse.
- Terrible nutrient partitioning. The fatter you are the more the extra calories will go to fat instead of being used to build muscles (study).
When Should I Cut or Bulk?
Since you understand now that bulking when you have too much fat is a very bad idea, let's see how you can tell when to cut or bulk.
There are two ways to do this: the accurate scientific way and the bro-way.
Scientific Way To Decide Whether To Cur Or Bulk
For this, you should just measure your body fat percentage with an accurate system such as the DEXA scan.
This is an expensive method and the best we currently have though not perfect.
All the other methods are not as accurate. The second best is BIA.
To know more about the problems with the body fat measuring methods, I recommend you to read this series from James Krieger.
Cut above 15% body fat.
Cut above 25% body fat.
The Problem With The Caliper
Can I just use a caliper to measure my body fat percentage?
The problem with the skinfold caliper is that translating the measurement to absolute body fat percentages is not very accurate. Taking measurements with the skinfold caliper is subject to error. If you have ever tried taking measurements with this tool, you know that you hardly get always the same number.
So, skinfold calipers are not valid methods to determine the exact body fat percentage but they can give you an estimate.
Furthermore they are very good to use to track whether you are gaining or losing fat over time (measurements going up or down).
Bro-Way To Decide Whether To Cur Or Bulk
This is easy.
Take off your shirt, go to the mirror and do not flex (I know how hard this is for you...) or stuck your gut in.
Can you see your abs? Are they defined?
Yes => Bulk
No => Cut
(this method might not work for women since they tend to accumulate fat on the lower part of their body, god bless 'em!)
Until When Should I Cut?
Until you can see your abs coming out in the mirror. Only then you can start bulking.
Don't worry about losing muscles.
If you keep your protein intake as you should (1.8g/kg body weight/day) and you keep working out, you can even build muscles on a cut.
Sure, you might not progress as expected and your strength might go down. This is normal, don't worry.
You might want to reduce the volume on a cut. One or two sets less per muscle group.
When you finish cutting you'll get stronger again but faster because of muscle memory.
It might be hard at times but just focus on working out hard, visualizing your goal and be persistent with it.
Think how fucking awesome you are going to look after it!
How Much Can I Bulk/Cut?
Bulking is overrated.
You know how many people got incredibly fat while listening to the famous old GOMAD advice?!
"Eat as much as you can", "Do olive oil shots", "Ingurgitate that mass gainer". What a bunch of crap.
That's good if you are a powerlifter and need to maximize your muscle gains. But if you don't want a protruding "sexy" belly, you can just pass that advice and still making great muscle and strength gains in the gym.
Some scientific studies on the subject show that groups of lifters at maintenance vs ones on a bulk gain the same amount of strength gains and size. But the bulking groups get fatter (study, study).
So you don't really need to go crazy on a bulk since energy balance is not a big determinant on the rate of muscle growth.
On the other hand, cutting will have a bigger impact on the rate at which you build muscles.
The more severe the cut, the slower you are going to build muscles.
Here is a table pulled out of my free ebook that tell you how much should you cut/bulk on a weekly basis:
Tracking the Cut/Bulk
Once you set your percentage of bulking/cutting it's time to check if you're doing well.
- Weight yourself every day in the morning, and average the numbers at the end of the week. Is the weight going up or down week by week?
- Take 5 measurements with the caliper in at least two points (suprailiac and umbilical) and average them out. Are they going up or down week by week?
- If on a cut you are losing weight and fat, and your progress in the gym is still the same, keep cutting at the same deficit.
- If on a cut you are losing weight and fat, and your progress in the gym is not as expected, reduce the deficit.
- If on a bulk you are gaining more weight than expected but not gaining fat, don't touch the calories.
- If on a bulk you are not gaining weight as expected, push the calories up until you gain some minimal fat. This is your sweet spot for bulking.
You now know whether you should cut or bulk.
You know that you shouldn't be afraid of cutting and how important it is to not bulk if you have a gut.
Now it's your turn. Cutting or bulking? Pick one and start looking like a God!
Are you ready to take action and become superhuman?
P.S. If you want to be coached by me and you are badass, committed