I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the following questions, or at least you’ve heard them:
– What should I do first, bulk or cut?
– Should I build muscle or lose fat?
These are both common questions amongst beginners, and intermediates.
Are you ready for the answer?
In this article, I’ll cover what I, as well as science believes to be the best way to go about these questions.
So, let’s get to it!
Bulk or Cut – Should You Build Muscle or Lose Fat First?
My short answer is that you should definitively cut and get lean before bulking!
With one exception.
If you’re already very skinny, then obviously you should start off with a lean-bulk.
But let’s not settle with the short answer.
Instead, let me tell you the awesome benefits of why you should get lean before bulking.
And more importantly, how to stay patient once you start bulking!
Let’s start with some depressing facts:
The average fat percentage of Americans are getting higher every year, even in younger population.
This chart displays the mean percentage body fat of Americans by age, group and sex. These statistics are from 2004, but the numbers are believed to be even higher as we speak.
The average American teenager between the age of 16-19 has a body fat percentage of 22.9 % for males and 34.8 % for females and the mean goes up with age.
Now, as a reader of this blog you probably have a lower fat percentage than this, just because you’re into fitness and hence staying relatively active already.
But nonetheless, chances are high by looking at the statistics that you’re still above the preferred body fat percentage range for starting a bulk.
Knowing this, most people probably need to focus on getting lean before bulking.
But there’s still a huge problem when it comes to getting lean before bulking that needs to be addressed. And it’s that many of us can’t seem to grasp that it takes time to create an outstanding physique that is both lean and muscular.
Trust me I’ve had my fair share of battling this.
I used to go on cuts, then jump straight to bulks, I mean binges and repeat the cycle again and again because I had zero patience for letting muscle growth occur.
Recognize this pattern? If so, fear not.
I’ll show you the secret to remain sane while building a great physique, I’ll also explain why it’s important to cut before you bulk.
Mindset: The Secret Behind a Great Physique
A big mistake that people make when starting their fitness journey is focusing solely on the end goal.
Something I always hear is:
-How long will it take me to build a muscular, ripped and fit physique?
I usually answer by asking what their dream physique is, while also looking at their current physique.
And my answer is usually:
-Anywhere from 1 to 4 years or more depending on their goal and starting point.
The reaction is often:
WHAT? Are you kidding me!? Do I need to stick to my training and diet plans for so long?
Of course! That’s how you build a great-looking and muscular physique.
But don’t get discouraged by this. If you do, you miss an extremely crucial point which is:
You won’t go from your current physique to your dream physique overnight, neither will you have the same physique, same physique, same physique and poof, after 100 days you wake up with your dream physique.
No, the process of changing your body will happen gradually as you’re making progress towards your goals.
I know, this can feel dull to hear, but it’s just the way it is. Time to suck it up!
It takes time to build a great physique, especially if you’re after a lot of muscle naturally.
But there’s one thing you can do to make this a lot more bearable, and that’s to make the journey as enjoyable and smooth as possible.
And the best way to do so is by getting lean before bulking!
3 Huge Benefits of Getting Lean Before Bulking
1. Look amazing while you’re bulking
As a beginner, I used to believe the most effective way to build muscle was through dirty bulking.
Once that was done I thought all I needed was a shorter cut and I’d look incredible.
But unfortunately, that was far from the truth.
This was me at the peak of my “dirty bulk” back in 2014. Looks more like a pear than a great physique in my opinion. I had been bulking for only 3 months! Probably built just 4 lbs of muscle while putting on 15-20 lbs of fat…
It wasn’t until I finally realized that it’s better to become lean first and then slowly add muscle mass through lean-bulking that my physique really started to take off.
And best of all, I started to enjoy the journey!
There are good reasons not to rush things, and if you’re new to strength training, you probably need to add 20-40 lbs (10-20 kg) of lean muscle on your frame, depending on your starting point, to achieve the physique you’re after.
And as I mentioned earlier, this will take time.
But, here’s the thing,
Time is rarely the problem.
The problem is the unnecessary amount of fat you store by starting to bulk before you’re lean enough to do so.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you’re a male, new to training and choose to start a bulk at 15 % body fat.
For 6 months, you add 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of muscle to your frame while simultaneously reaching 25 % bodyfat.
Putting on 10 lbs of muscle in 6 months is great.
But, will you be happy with your look between 15-25 % bodyfat?
You’ll have no definition of the muscles you’ve built, you’ll look puffy, have a swollen face and you won’t fit too well in clothes. It’s at 15 % bodyfat that any hint of aesthetics starts fading away.
Not to mention the time that you must waste on cutting to get in shape again. Time that can be better spent continuing to build muscle with a small surplus for months to come.
By staying lean, between 10-15 % body fat, while bulking you won’t think as much about the time it takes to build muscle.
This is because your time in the gym will be a lot more enjoyable. You can rock your favorite tank top and flex your “bulking pumps” in the gym with leanness to also show for it!
That sounds terrible!
The mistake of not starting out lean is one of the reasons that I, after four years of training, haven’t developed as much muscle mass as I could.
Had I made the right decision to cut before I bulked when I just started out, while also having better patience, not only would I’ve looked better during my journey, I would’ve also saved a lot of time building more muscle.
2. Achieving a low fat percentage sets you up for a perfect lean-bulk
In the example above, you started bulking at 15 % body fat.
Let’s look at a much better way to do it.
If you, instead of bulking, start with 6-8 week of cutting, you can get from 15 % body fat down to 8-10 %
Doing it this way, you will be able to lean-bulk for 4-6 months before you reach 15 % body fat, where an aesthetic physique starts to disappear.
During these months of bulking, you might add 10-15 lbs. (5-7 kg) of muscle as a beginner or perhaps 6-10 lbs. (3-5 kg) as an intermediate if training is set up correctly.
Which by the way is a lot of muscle in such a short time!
And because you chose to start with a cut, you’ll now go from 10 to 15 % body fat instead of 15 to 20 % during your bulk, which is a HUGE difference aesthetically!
Why not Build Muscle and Lose Fat Simultaneously?
That’s a good question.
And in fact, as a beginner to early intermediate, you can build muscle and lose fat simultaneously, as long as the protein intake is high enough and your training is on point.
This is especially true if you’re starting out with a higher fat percentage as well!
Adam Tzur over at sci-fit.net did an amazing science based article around this subject, that you should check out!
Now, you won’t build muscle as fast as you would during a calorie surplus of course, but it’s still possible.
Once the newbie gains have passed though, body recomposition as it’s called becomes more and more tricky to do.
Okay, let’s look at the third and final benefit of starting out lean before bulking.
3. You’ll build more muscle and put on less fat when you’re lean
Research shows that you’ll achieve better nutrient partitioning, or in scientific terms p-ratio, (more muscle and less fat) when you’re lean.
Lean in this case means between 8-15 % body fat for men and 17-25 % for women.
Your nutrient partitioning improves because your body maintains a better hormonal balance when you’re lean.
For example, a lower body fat percentage makes you more insulin sensitive (you handle nutrients, specifically carbs more effectively).
You’ll also have higher testosterone and lower cortisol levels in your blood, creating a more anabolic environment in your body which promotes muscle growth.
So, the higher fat percentage you accumulate during a bulk, the more fat versus muscle you’ll put on with additional calories. That’s a good reason if any to never rush a bulk, as well as staying below 15-17 % body fat for men and 25-27 % for women.
Conclusion – Live the Majority of Your Time in a Small Calorie Surplus
You should definitively achieve a lean physique at 8-10 % body fat for men and 17-20 % for women before you start thinking about bulking.
This sets you up for a long and sustainable lean-bulk where you’ll be able to build an optimal amount of muscle for 4-6 months without losing too much muscular definition.
This makes it a lot more fun during your bulking periods, because you can flex the incredible pump you get in the gym with leanness to show for it.
Best of all, you’ll only need 6-8 weeks of cutting in between the bulking periods.
Not only will you look good all the time, it’s also a lot healthier for the body to stay lean, and you’ll build more muscle because of it.
So, are you going to avoid the unhealthy yoyo syndrome, where you fluctuate heavily in weight?
Are you going to avoid looking fat half of the year and just okay the other half?
Are you going to start looking good and end up looking great?!
Do you agree that you should get lean before bulking? Have anything to add or a question? Leave a comment below and I’ll answer as quickly as I can!
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