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How to Properly do Cutting and Bulking Phases

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Bulking up to gain muscle weight and then cutting down to lose fat weight is the core of bodybuilding.  Every bodybuilder is either on a cutting phase or a bulking phase, or if your advanced you may be on a clean bulking phase (discussed below).  This article will help address the issues of both phases and teach you the principles of both.

A lot of people might disagree but I think that bulking cleanly is more difficult than cutting up, the only exceptions to this rule are people who are small and don't have a lot of mass/muscle to begin with and people who have slower metabolisms.  That, however, is just my personal opinion and I feel that both cutting and bulking (correctly) are challenging.  Here are some key differences in both phases you need to focus on:

Bulking:  Gain muscle while minimizing fat gains.

Cutting:  Lose fat, while minimizing muscle loss.

So as you can see both deal with balancing muscle and fat masses.  Here are the basics you need to understand for both phases:

Bulking and Cutting Differences

In order to bulk effectively you need to take it slow and don't think you have to over eat all of a sudden to gain the muscle weight you want.  You do need to eat more overall to increase your body mass.  Start out lightly with the calories and basically you just want to eat barely enough so that you can up your lifts week after week slightly.  If you eat too much you will most likely store a lot of it into fat weight, which of course you do not want.

The secret to minimize fat gains while bulking up is cardiovascular exercise!  Now you need to be careful with cardio because overdoing it will prevent you from gaining muscle mass.  You basically just want to do a few short intense cardio intervals a week.  What works best for me is to do a cardio workout every 3rd/4th day and keep the workout around only 10-15 minutes total, doing a slow warmup to start and finish it up with some short high intensity bursts, and that's it.  While cutting up you will be doing a lot more cardio.  This has worked very well for me to gain muscle without putting on much fat weight at all during bulking phases.

Complex CarbsThe main diet difference between cutting and bulking is your carb intake (and reduced calories overall).  While bulking you will want to increase the amount of complex carbs across virtually all your meals, this means to add more brown rice, oats, sweet potatoes, etc.  Beans, such as black beans are also a good addition to a bulking diet since they contain both protein and complex carbs.  And while cutting you will simply want to drop all of those complex carbs out of your diet, or at least drop them slowly out until you consume no complex carbs.

Protein and fat basically can remain the same on both phases as the key here is manipulating the hormone insulin to gain weight on a bulking phase and to turn off insulin during a cutting phase to lose fat.  In case you do not know, insulin is an anabolic hormone secreted when carbs enter the bloodstream and tell your body get rid of the nutrients flowing through your blood by storing them in your body as muscle/or fat, which is helpful during a bulking phase but not helpful during a cutting phase.

Also a personal tip, I feel that while bulking, protein is less essential than carbs.  Yes protein is muscle building, but carbs are muscle sparing, allowing you to eat less protein if you eat more carbs and still grow.  however, these should be good, grainy, unrefined/unprocessed starchy carbs along with some good veggies, though you will gain a decent amount of fat on a long term bulking diet, that fat allows you to lift more weight than if you were ripped to shreds, allowing more overload and thus more muscle, just my theory.  The best way to get more protein in your diet is to get protein powder from Netrition's Protein Selection, which I highly recommend.

Cutting on the other hand, requires more mental toughness because you must resist the urge to bust out the Hagen Daz and stick to your steamed broccoli.  And unlike bulking where an occasional cheat meal here and there won't hurt you much, cheating on a cutting diet will.  This is because, while cutting you're in a caloric deprivation, slightly lowering your calories by about 500 below your BMR and TDEE.  This means your meals can be much smaller and much easier to bring with you.  Also, you must eat even more frequently while cutting, even as often as every 2 hours because this allows you to keep your metabolism soaring, burning cals, so don't be surprised if you end up eating 8-10 small meals instead of the traditional six meals every 3-4 hours when bulking.

Now to the part of cutting we all hate the most... cardio!

CardioCardio is essential for strengthening your cardiovascular system along with increasing your metabolism to burn fat off through out the day. While cutting it's normal to do it as often as you can.  A 30-45 minute workout every other day is about the standard, but you can do it every day if you like.  Doing it every 3rd day is an okay option as well.

If you can, find cardio activities that are fun to do, such as recreational sports.  And try to keep your cardio workouts varied, which has been proven to be more efficient to getting leaner.  I can attest to this myself!

Weight training is the same for both phases, no difference here.

What is Clean Bulking?

Clean bulking means to put on muscle weight without putting on fat weight. I am a big advocate of clean bulking and I always do clean bulking when trying to gain muscle weight.  Generally with bulking up, people do not do cardio or very little of it, which will slow down the MBR and allow for fast muscle gains, but at the cost of fat gain as well.  What's the point of that when you will have to spend a longer time on the cutting phase to lose the fat?

From my experience it is a wise idea to continue doing cardio workouts during a bulking phase to minimize any fat gains.  It's important though, not to overdo cardio, that will prevent muscle gains severely.  Like I said above you will want to do a few short intense cardio workouts a week and that is all that is generally required to make clean bulking happen.

You can take it a step further and spend 1-2 days a week to lower your complex carb intake to help empty out some glycogen in your liver to allow some fat lose acceleration every now and then during your clean bulking phases.  I actually made a whole article on this actually called calorie cycling for fat loss, please read that for more info on how to do clean bulking effectively.

Phase Durations

How long should you do a cutting or bulking phase you may ask?  There is no definite answer on this, you will get answers from 1 day bulking, 1 day cutting, all the way to 6 months bulking, then 6 months cutting. Generally is doesn't matter a whole lot which frequency you choose.  What's important is that you spend the time to do both in the amount that you need and want to do for your specific goals.  For most I recommend bulking for 2-3 months, then cut for however long you need to get rid of the fat you gained during the bulking phase.

BULKING SUMMARY:

  • Eat CLEAN foods every 3-4 hrs, with complex carbs.
  • Try not to cheat and over eat.
  • Make your meals balanced with protein, carbs and fat.
  • Eat at least 5 meals a day.
  • Monitor your weight workouts every week and see if you are progressing.  You basically just want to slowly progress with your weight workouts slightly each week.
  • Do only a few very short intense cardio workouts a week.  NOTE: This is optional if your doing clean bulking, but I recommend doing this anyway though!  I am not a fan of regular bulking without some cardio in the mix as well!

CUTTING SUMMARY:

  • Small meals every 2-3 hours
  • Cut back on the carbs (oats, rice, potatoes, etc..)
  • Your overall calories must be decreased (mostly from the carbs).
  • Increase your cardiovascular workouts, frequency and durations.
  • Don't try to cut weight too fast... slow and efficient is the way to go.  If you see your lifts going down week after week, that is an indicator that you need more nutrition to maintain your muscle mass.

I hope this helps some of the new guys!

Also for advanced techniques to build muscle and lose fat overtime with short bulking and cutting phases, please check out my zig zag calorie cycling diet out.

 

 


 

 

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