Everything You Need To Know About Bulking and Cutting

Not sure whether to bulk or cut? We'll help you figure out where to start, and give you tips on how to start bulking and cutting the right way...

Everything You Need To Know About Bulking and Cutting
Evelyn Valdez Evelyn Valdez
10 min read

When weight training to build muscle, fat loss, or both, most start by tweaking their workout routines to match their fitness goals. Like on the Fit With Iulia app, Iulia has workout plans for anyone trying to tone up, build muscle, or lose fat at the gym or at home! However, if you're seriously trying to bulk up or lose weight in a certain amount of time then you have to take your dieting seriously because to maximize the best results possible from your training - you need to focus on nutrition.

Many lifters and bodybuilders are able to achieve their physique goals by entering a bulking phase (muscle gain) or a cutting phase (fat loss). You've probably heard about both of these methods either at the gym or by one of your lifter buddies! Both are great dieting methods that can help make significant improvements in the way your body looks... Unfortunately, most people go about it the wrong way. Approaching these phases wrong can lead you in the opposite direction of your goals.

Bulking and cutting have their pros and cons, but knowing how to go about each phase in a smart and effective manner will reduce the potential cons! So, besides giving you planned workouts designed to help you achieve your goals, we're going to give you tips on how to approach a cutting and bulking phase for the best results possible!

What's the difference between cutting and bulking?

A bulking phase refers to a temporary moderate calorie surplus in an effort to increase muscle mass and body weight. A cutting phase is the opposite. It involves temporarily reducing your calorie intake to achieve weight loss, more specifically fat loss. But there's more to it than just that...

Both bulking and cutting phases require you to optimize your macronutrient intake and training program to ensure that the weight you're gaining isn't all fat, and the weight you're losing isn't all muscle! This is why approaching both phases correctly is important! Going about it the wrong way can lead to weight gain or muscle loss. But before we dive into our tips that will help you approach both phases correctly...

Should you bulk or cut?

This mostly depends on your current body state and your specific fitness goals. To give you a general idea, if you want to maximize muscle gain and don't mind gaining a little bit of weight then start with a bulking phase. Another way to determine if you should bulk is by looking at your body fat percentage! If you're a man at or below 10% body fat or a woman at or below 20% body fat then consider starting with a bulking phase.

Those who want to lose weight, or specifically want to reduce their body fat percentage in an effort to get lean should consider starting with a cutting phase. So, if your primary concern is weight loss or losing fat, bulking up shouldn't be your priority quite yet. However, if you're in the middle, meaning your body fat is in the normal range, and you're torn between gaining muscle or abs then consider your body fat percentage. Men with more than 15% body fat or women with more than 25% body fat should consider starting with a cutting phase.

These are just general guidelines, you know your body, goals, and lifestyle best. So, take those things into consideration when deciding which phase to start with.

Tips for cutting without losing muscle

Once you've decided you want to cut and set a specific goal you want to hit, you can start making the necessary changes in your training routine and diet! When entering a cutting phase in an effort to lose body fat, the first thing you should do is calculate your macros to determine your calorie deficit. The Fit With Iulia Macro Calculator uses a 10-20% deficit below your maintenance level to ensure that you're eating enough to sustain the muscle you have built while losing fat. Basically reducing the risk of a huge amount of muscle loss from happening!

Once you calculate your macros, follow these tips to ensure maximal fat loss and little muscle loss...

Prioritize protein

Protein isn't only important for those wanting to promote muscle growth, in fact, it's very crucial for body recomposition. When you're cutting for fat loss, some of the weight loss can come from the loss of muscle tissue. To prevent losing massive amounts of muscle, keep your protein intake on the higher side. Using our macro calculator will ensure you're eating enough protein, but it's not a bad idea to go a little bit higher if you wish!

Aside from that, you want to eat enough protein to make sure you recover faster and effectively, feel satiated by your meals to reduce the risk of underrating, and overall keep your body functioning at optimal levels!

Weight train to maintain muscle

Before you dive headfirst into all the HIIT and cardio workouts, it's important to know that although weight loss/fat loss is your goal, it shouldn't be your primary goal in training. Remember, you want to make sure you're burning fat, not muscle. Excessive amounts of cardio will eventually lead to muscle loss, so to prevent that, maintain a consistent strength training routine and practice progressive overload.

Your goal in training should be to give your body a reason to maintain the muscle mass it has, so instead of switching to a lighter weight training routine, focus on creating a well-designed workout plan aimed at building muscle with a few small adjustments to promote fat burning. This is essentially how Iulia plans the Fit With Iulia workout plans focused on fat loss.

Don't do too much cardio

Despite popular belief, your main focus shouldn't be cardio - strength training always comes first. But you should include some cardio in your routine to burn extra calories and put you in a caloric deficit. However, you don't need to perform high-intensity cardio every day to reap the best fat loss results, and some might love to hear this... do the least amount of cardio needed.

Avoid doing more than 3-4 hours of cardio per week to minimize fatigue and reduce the risk of overtraining or an injury. A good general guideline to follow is to stay between 2-4 cardio training sessions per week, 20-40 minutes per session.

So, what kind of cardio should you do?

Stick to low to moderate-intensity cardio. This includes walking, jogging, cycling, or using gym equipment like an elliptical or stair master. Choose something you enjoy that will burn a good amount of calories and doesn't interfere with your weightlifting. Many gym-goers, especially women, ramp up the HIIT in an effort to lose fat, but it's not necessary. HIIT is a great time-saver, but it's no more effective at weight loss than moderate-intensity cardio.[1]

If you want to learn more about what type of cardio to do check out >> How to Combine Cardio and Weightlifting to Maximize Fat Loss.

Temporarily pause your deficit periodically

Being in a caloric deficit can come with some downsides, this includes reduced recovery, hunger, fatigue, metabolic slowdown, and more. Unfortunately, in order to cut, you must be eating fewer calories than you burn. However, this doesn't mean you have to follow that deficit every day, as a matter of fact, for the best results, you shouldn't.

So, while you're in a cutting phase temporarily pause your deficit by using calorie cycling or diet breaks. You can do this by implementing one or two higher-calorie days or meals. Just be careful with this, avoid using this as an opportunity to go off the rails, this will only undo all your hard work! Enjoy a cheat meal from time to time, but when implementing refeeds prioritize healthy nutrient-dense foods.

As for how long you should cut, you can end your cut once you hit your goal, but try not to go beyond 4 months. Stick between a 2-4 month cutting phase, and then you can decide whether you want to maintain for a while or enter a clean bulk.

Be patient and take it slow

This is not really a tip, but it is important... You want to lose weight at an ideal rate. Losing weight too fast increases your risk of muscle loss, but also increases your hunger, fatigue, and can even affect your mood. To change your body composition, lose fat while maintaining lean muscle, you have to be patient and take it slow.

The ideal rate at which you want to lose weight is between 0.3-1% of body weight per week or between 0.5-2 lbs.

Tips for building muscle with minimal fat gain

There are two common ways to bulk up, doing what's called a "dirty bulk" or "clean bulk". We do not recommend dirty bulking! It involves taking drastic measures in an effort to gain weight, muscle, and strength quickly, but in the end, it can leave you feeling slugging and causing too much fat gain, instead of muscle gain.

When it comes to entering a bulking phase, you want to make sure to go about it in a smart way to avoid too much fat gain and place a greater focus on muscle growth. This is why we suggest clean bulking which involves strategically adjusting your diet so you're in a caloric surplus and making training adjustments in an effort to maximize lean muscle gains while minimizing body fat gains. Realistically speaking, you will experience some weight gain/fat gain, however, following the tips below will ensure that the gains are minimal...

Eat slightly more calories than you burn

Emphasis on slightly. To maximize muscle gain, you want to maintain a moderate calorie surplus, eating around 110% of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). So, you're only eating 10% more than you usually would. Doing this will help enhance your body's ability to recover and adapt to your intense weight training.

Don't make the mistake of overeating by a lot! Doing so will just drown your body in calories causing you to gain weight instead of fueling muscle growth. So, remember to overeat by a little bit. Calculating and tracking your macros will help keep you in line with your calorie and nutrient intake to maximize the best results possible.

Focus on high-protein, high-carbohydrate foods

Aside from getting the magic number for your calorie surplus, you also want to make sure you're fueling your body with the proper nutrients to fuel your workouts and enhance recovery to build muscle. To clean bulk, you should load up on protein and carbs. As you know, protein is necessary for muscle-building and several other benefits, but carbs also play a key role in building muscle. To power heavy lifts your body needs glycogen which is produced by a high carb intake. But you want to make sure you're eating good, healthy carbs that will provide you with a steady flow of energy. Focus mainly on complex carbs like potatoes, whole grains, and legumes, and have simple carbs, like fruit, before or after training. This doesn't mean you have to eat clean 24/7 but prioritize healthier, nutrient-dense foods to minimize fat gain. If you want an occasional treat, be smart about it, and track your macros to ensure you're not overeating by too much.

It's recommended for a lean bulk diet to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, set fat intake at 20% of your calories, and fill in the rest with carbs. However, everyone's body, activity levels, goals, etc, are different, so calculate your macros for a more accurate number.

Focus on heavy weight lifting and progressive overload

To gain significant muscle, nothing beats heavy weight lifting, specifically compound movements. These exercises are multi-joint movements, like deadlifts, that work various major muscle groups at once. Because of this, they require maximal power output and stimulate your muscles better than isolation exercises, so they should be your main priority!

Aside from lifting heavy, you want to make sure you're practicing progressive overload. This is a fitness method that involves increasing the volume, resistance, or intensity of your workout to give your body new challenges to adapt to which in turn stimulates better muscle growth. The easiest and simplest way to achieve this is by adding more weight or reps to every exercise you perform. For example, if you deadlifted 135 for 6 reps last week, try 145 for 5 reps the following week. If you want more tips on driving progress, here are tips on how to get started practicing progressive overload.

Take the right supplements

Supplements aren't magic pills to fitness success... But, when you know how to eat and train, you can use supplements to help you effectively reach your goals. Supplements like protein powder, creatine, and pre-workout, contain ingredients at optimal doses to provide your body what it needs to either enhance recovery, build muscle, or increase energy levels.

Before you hit your local health store and spend money on every supplement you see, do your research. Look for supplements you need and that suit your goals and dietary needs. We suggest looking for a protein powder, creatine, BCAAs, or pre-workout. Protein powder, creatine, and BCAAs are some of the most popular for muscle gain, and having a good pre-workout can help increase your energy and focus for better training performance.

Stop and switch to a cutting phase at the right time

Although your lean bulking, you don't want to do it for too long, or else you'll reach a point where you gain too much weight. To avoid gaining too much fat, know when to stop bulking and start cutting. Everyone has their own goals and preferences when taking this into account, but here's a general guideline to help you determine when to stop bulking...

  • Men should stop bulking once they reach the 15-20% body fat range.
  • Women should stop bulking once they reach the 23-28% body fat range.

Again, use your best judgment – you know your body and goals best!

In summary, strategically planning your bulk and cutting phases and optimizing your training and nutrition will ensure that you reap the best results possible. We hope these tips help you reach new heights on your fitness journey, and if you need further help like getting a goal-focused workout plan and a space to track macros then look no further than the Fit With Iulia app! Pick whether you want to follow a muscle-building or fat loss program, and use the Kitchen feature to calculate your macros and track them. You can also track your progress directly on the app, workout in offline mode, and so much more!

Try your first workout for free, no subscription required! Simply download the Fit With Iulia App, click on the goal that best fits yours, and start your first workout with Iulia!