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Bulking vs Cutting: Everything You Need to Know

Daniël August 26, 20225 mins read
Bulking vs cutting everything you need to know

To get stronger and build muscle, people go through bulking and cutting phases. You gain weight when bulking and lose weight when cutting.

You may have questions about bulking and cutting: why are people doing it, is it necessary and when do you bulk and when do you cut.

You will find out in this article.

Bulking

When you are bulking, you are gaining weight. The goal is to gain muscle, but you will always gain fat too. 

You have to eat in a calorie surplus. This means that you eat more than you burn.

We recommend you to do a lean bulk, which means that you eat in a controlled way so that you maximize muscle gain and minimize fat gain. 

Cutting

When cutting, you eat less than your body needs. This will result in weight loss. In this case, you want to maximize fat loss and minimize muscle loss.

You have to eat in a calorie deficit. Focus on slow but steady results by eating slightly less.

If you eat way less than you need, you will lose a lot of muscle too and this is not the goal.

Starting a bulk

Okay, so you want to gain muscle and gain weight. Remember, you can’t avoid that you also will gain fat. You can minimize this, though.

The first step is to calculate your maintenance calories. This number is the amount you have to eat in order to stay at the same weight.

You can calculate your maintenance level.

We recommend that you add 200-300 kcal to your maintenance calories. 

So when your maintenance level is 2600 kcal, you have to eat 2800-2900 kcal when you are bulking.

Your food should be optimized too. The recommended protein intake is 0.7-1 gram protein per pound of body weight or 1.6-2.2 grams per kg.

You can track your daily food intake with apps. We recommend using MyFitnessPal.

To check if your calculations were correct, weigh yourself on a regular basis. You have to gain 0.25-0.5% of your body weight every week.

If the weight gain is less, eat more. If the weight gain is more, eat less (but keep your protein intake high enough). Simple as that.

When bulking, it is essential to do (high intensity) resistance training in order to gain muscle mass. Go to the gym or do home workouts.

Progressive overload is really important when doing strength training. This means that you focus on training heavier every workout. 

You can do this by increasing the sets and reps or by using heavier weights.

The duration of a bulking phase depends on your goals. Normally, it takes between 2 to 6 months. 

Starting a cut

When you do a cut, the same principles are important.

The first step is to calculate your maintenance calories. This number is the amount you have to eat in order to stay at the same weight.

You can calculate your maintenance level.

We recommend that you eat 200-300 kcal below your maintenance calories. 

So when your maintenance level is 2600 kcal, you have to eat 2300-2400 kcal when you are cutting.

200-300 calories less means a slow but steady weight and fat loss process. You should be able to maintain muscle mass.

If your goal is to lose a lot of fat first, you may want to eat 500 calories below your maintenance level.

Your food should be optimized too. Eat 0.7-1 gram protein per pound of body weight or 1.6-2.2 grams per kg.

You can track your daily food intake with apps. We recommend using MyFitnessPal.

To check if your calculations were correct, weigh yourself on a regular basis. You have to lose 0.5-1% of your body weight every week.

If the weight loss is less, eat less (but keep your protein intake high). If the weight loss is more, eat more.

Instead of eating less, you can also be more active and eat the same.

When cutting, it is essential to do (high intensity) resistance training in order to maintain your muscle mass. Go to the gym or do home workouts.

Progressive overload is probably not possible when cutting.

You focus on maintaining muscle mass so when you train you focus on performing the sets and reps you can perform already. 

The duration of a cutting phase depends on your goals. Normally, it takes between 2 to 4 months.

Chances are high that you will see great results after this.

Bulk food

When you are bulking, it’s best to eat food that is high in protein and calories.

It’s not recommended that you eat lots of pizza for example, because that will result in a lot of fat gain. This is called a dirty bulk.

Some recommendations:

  • Lean proteins: Chicken, turkey, Greek yogurt, reduced fat cheese, bars, beef, fish, pork, cottage cheese, protein powders, mass gainers and eggs.
  • Legumes: Beans
  • Fruit: Oranges, pineapple, berries, apples, bananas and grapefruit
  • Cruciferous veggies: Cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts
  • Beverages: Water, diet soda, coffee, fruit juice, seltzer, tea and kombucha
  • Healthy fats: Avocado, nut butters, seeds, olive oil, nuts and fatty fish
  • High quality carbs: Quinoa, rice cakes, sweet potatoes, oats, whole grain pasta, breakfast cereals and white/brown rice
  • Non-starchy vegetables: Asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, green beans, onions, zucchini and celery
  • Dark leafy greens: Swiss chard, kale, spinach and collard greens
  • Occasional foods: Regular pasta, full fat cheese, pan-friend meats, pizza, baked goods and high sugar breakfast cereals

Limit these:

  • Highly processed foods: Chips, full fat ice cream, sausage, salami, deep-fried foods, fast food, bacon, ham and pate
  • Saturated fats: Certain oils and margarine
  • Beverages: Sweetened coffee, lemonade, soft drinks, sweet tea and other sugary drinks

Cut food

Focus on food that has a lot of nutrients and is lower in calories. 

Some cutting foods are the same as bulking foods. The difference here is the quantity that you consume.

Some recommendations:

  • Lean proteins: Turkey, fish, high protein meat substitutes (plant-based), low fat cheese, chicken breast, lean pork or beef, tofu, egg(whites)
  • Legumes: Beans
  • Fruits low in sugar: Apples, peaches, melon, oranges, kiwi, pears, berries, grapefruit, figs and plums
  • Dark leafy greens: Swiss chard, kale, spinach and collard greens
  • Healthy fats: Avocado, nut butters, olive oil, nuts, and seeds
  • Fibrous carbs: Quinoa, whole grain pasta, low sugar cereals, brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats and rice cakes
  • Non-starchy vegetables: Broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, onions, cabbage, carrots and celery
  • Beverages: Sugar-free drinks, unsweetened coffee, water and tea

Limit these:

  • High fat proteins
  • Processed foods
  • High calorie foods
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages

Should you bulk or cut?

When you have to decide what the right choice is, bulk or cut, it has to be clear what your goals are and what your starting point is.

If you want to build muscle and a good physique, it is recommended that you bulk first. 

The more muscle you have, the easier a cut will be. 

This is because you are allowed to eat more when you have more muscle because your maintenance level is higher.

This is perfect for people who don’t like cardio or people who have limited mobility.

Also, when you have more muscles, you will look better at a higher fat percentage than a person without muscles at all. 

If you are overweight and your goal is to lose weight, it is better to cut first. 

It is not recommended that you bulk in this case because you are already at a high fat percentage.

Consult a registered dietitian if you want guidance on an individual level.

You can also check our blog about recommended diets.


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