Bulking and cutting is a common bodybuilder approach in which you gain a lot of weight and then lose a lot of weight. The theory is that you eat aggressively and focus on hypertrophy to allow your body to put on muscle mass. Then you eat restrictively and ramp up cardio to allow your body to burn fat.
In theory, it makes a lot of sense. However, after trying this approach for two straight years, I always found myself right back where I started.
Bodybuilders have been successfully using this approach for years, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a bodybuilder. Therefore I could have been doing something wrong when I tried to bulk and cut.
The bottom line is that I gained too much fat when bulking and lost too much muscle when cutting. Moreover, I felt fat when I was bulking and felt skinny when I was cutting. Therefore I was never really happy with my appearance.
Let’s examine some of the flaws in the way I approached bulking and cutting. When I was in a bulking phase, I ate 3,000 calories per day. My diet included a 500 calorie protein shake every night after working out. That’s in addition to eating 5 other meals during the day. For reference, my BMR is about 1,600.
Therefore I was eating 1,400 calories over BMR. That doesn’t account for the fact that I probably underestimated how many calories I ate in the first place. I didn’t worry because I figured any fat I put on would melt off when I started cutting. Was my approach flawed? Absolutely.
The point is that this type of program isn’t something the regular average person can effectively incorporate when training. Plus, when I hit my bulking peak, my pants barely fit anymore. That was very uncomfortable.
That was my cue to begin cutting. I put on about 10lbs during my bulking phase, so I figured I would take those pounds off. I assumed that I would keep the muscle mass that I added, even though my body fat had increased as well. I aggressively cut by restricting calories and adding an extra cardio workout in the morning.
My life was built around exercising. I lost a ton of weight. However, not all of it was body fat. So I continued to lose weight. I found myself losing 15lbs to get to a point where I was happy with my body fat.
In the meantime, my shoulders and chest shrunk because I was overaggressive with my diet and exercise.
I decided to start bulking again. I made most of the same mistakes the second time around. I didn’t eat quite as excessively, but I limited how much cardio I performed so that I could add lean muscle mass. I put on 15lbs.
My body fat rose again but not as rapidly as before. Once more, my pants were too tight, and I decided to cut.
At one time, I thought it would be awesome to get this big. However, my wife (and probably other women) would agree that being lean is better than being bulky.
Cutting For Good
I determined that I didn’t really like the way I looked during bulking or cutting. I changed my approach to slowly lose fat while preserving muscle mass.
I’m back down to where my last cutting phase ended, but my shoulders and chest are very close to where they were during the bulking phase.
I did this by using the principles outlined in Eat Stop Eat and Turbulence Training.
A Better Approach
Now I want to add some lean muscle mass. Once again, I’m taking a go-slow approach. Rusty Moore’s Visual Impact has really shed light on how to add mass properly. Rusty doesn’t advocate eating 500-1,000 calories over BMR, merely a small surplus. More importantly, he recognizes that you can’t physically gain 20lbs of muscle in one month.
Finally, he incorporates muscle building in phases to ensure that I can still see my abs and be happy with my appearance throughout the muscle building phase. While bulking and cutting may make sense for bodybuilders, I aim to maintain a lean, athletic physique throughout the year, and legal steroid alternatives can help me achieve that goal while adding some muscle without gaining fat.