Bulking or Cutting: Which Should I Choose?
I often get asked by people if they should be cutting or bulking. There are many ways to answer this. First, let me ask you, what is your goal in working out? Is it like most people? You want to look good and see your muscle definition, maybe some abs. This usually occurs around 12-15% body fat for most men. To quickly answer your question, you should cut if you are above 15-20% body fat. You should probably bulk if you are at or below 10% body fat. Bulking is based on preference; if you don’t mind being in bear mode, you could even go to 20%. I do not recommend anything above this for your health and longevity; I will explain why later. I went through the bear-mode phase too! Years later, I realized that I feel and look better between 10-15% body fat. After all, a big part of the reason I work out is to look fit. When you have too much fat covering your muscle, it defeats the purpose…
Hormone Optimization & Health Outcomes
The 10-15% body fat range is where our testosterone production is optimized (Shamim et al., 2015). Male testosterone levels are higher at 10-15% body fat. Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone. Higher levels help by increasing muscle protein synthesis, energy, sleep, and recovery. If you are over 25% body fat, you need to cut since you are overweight. You risk developing chronic conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure! If you are below 10% body fat, you don’t necessarily have to bulk; you could keep cutting. However, few people can feel good while maintaining a sub-10% body fat. Most people start feeling lethargic and depressed, and their bodies do not function optimally.
A common misconception in the fitness industry is that a pound of muscle takes 3,500 calories to build. Most cookie-cutter bulking plans you find online require you to eat at a daily caloric surplus of 500 kcal. According to that information, this surplus should cause you to gain 1 lb. of muscle per week right? This is wrong! 3,500 kcal is how much it takes to gain a pound of fat. Muscle only takes about 2,600-2,800 kcals to build. You can only make so much muscle each day. “Dirty bulking” refers to people who eat as many calories as possible to “maximize” their muscle gains. They try to sprint to the finish line when they are supposed to run a marathon!
There are a few things to remember when “bulking” and “cutting.” If you are in too high of a caloric surplus (>300 kcal surplus ), your bulk will be short-lived since you will quickly gain fat. On the other hand, if you cut too fast (<300 kcal deficit), you will lose muscle. This is why many people look the same year after year. They don’t get anywhere with their physiques. They cut every time they get fat, then lose the muscle they earned. Make your caloric surplus or deficit only about 100-300 calories to get the best results. As you gain or lose weight, adjust your caloric intake. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to bodybuilding. If you dirty bulk and have to cut 10% of body fat afterward, you will lose muscle mass. In the end, you would be in the same spot as someone else who did a slower “clean bulk” and doesn’t have to cut as much. The result is the same in both scenarios. But which person maintained a solid physique throughout their lifting career?
Don’t forget to track your calories! “Well, Francesco how do I know how many calories to eat?” Great question! Here is a link to my free calorie calculator!