Bulking & Cutting: How To Bulk Up And Cut For More Muscle, Less Fat

Whether you want to build muscle, lose fat or do both, there’s a good chance you’re going to come across the terms bulking up and cutting in your quest for figuring out how to best reach those goals.

In fact, I’m sure many of you have already done a couple of “bulk and cut” cycles over the years, and many others are probably thinking about doing it for the first time. How nice.

The thing is, how successful these bulking and cutting cycles have been for you in the past and how successful they will be for you in the future depends on a bunch of factors, the most important of which may just be understanding what these terms DO and DO NOT mean and applying them accordingly.

So, let’s start with the basics.

What Are Bulking And Cutting?

Honestly, they are just stupid words used to describe building muscle and losing fat. The reason I call these words “stupid” is because they are quite broad, and that leaves an opening for them to be interpreted many different ways… some of which are VERY wrong.

You see, in the most general sense, they can be defined the following way:

  • The Bulk: A period of time when the primary goal is building muscle, gaining weight, increasing strength, or all of the above. Calorie intake is increased so a caloric surplus is present.
  • The Cut: A period of time when the primary goal is losing fat, losing weight, getting leaner, or all of the above. Calorie intake is decreased and/or calorie expenditure is increased so that a caloric deficit is present.

The final constant about the scenarios these words entail is that they are typically done in alternating cycles. You know… bulk for X amount of time, then cut for Y amount of time (or vice-versa depending on your initial goal).

This is how countless people have gone about trying to reach their fat loss and muscle building goals for decades and will likely still do it decades from now.

Why? Because it works IF it’s done right. However, as you’re about see, that’s a pretty big IF.

Now For The Problems…

What sucks about these words is that they lack details and specifics. The general concept of each is well known and widely agreed upon, but exactly how those concepts should be applied will vary.

And therein lies the problem, because there’s a way of bulking and cutting that works well, and a way that works horribly. Let’s make sure you know the difference.

How To Bulk… The Wrong Way

The typical old-school approach to bulking up tends to take things literally. As in, the goal here is to just gain a lot of “bulk” at a fairly rapid rate.

Of course, “bulk” can be a few different things (muscle or fat), and while we might want it to mostly be muscle, this style of bulking doesn’t really put much of a focus on actually making that happen.

What I mean is, usually

  • Calorie intake isn’t closely monitored. In fact, there’s often little attention paid to calories beyond just making sure you eat a shitload of them.
  • Nutrient intake also isn’t closely monitored (other than maybe protein).
  • Food choices are typically “dirtier” than they would normally be (more junk food is allowed in the diet to provide that aforementioned shitload of calories).
  • No cardio activity is done.
  • The focus is largely on just gaining weight fast… even if a significant amount of that weight is ugly body fat rather than pretty muscle. As long as body weight is increasing, the bulk is successful!

This is the approach that comes with such genius sayings as “just eat as much as you can” and “eat whatever isn’t nailed down” and the always wonderful “you gotta eat big to get big, bro!

There is some truth to this of course, as a caloric surplus is definitely required for building muscle. But here’s the thing… there’s a limit to the amount of muscle a person can build and the rate at which they can build it (more here: How Fast Can You Build Muscle?).

What this means is that there is also a limit to the amount of calories the human body can actually put towards the process of muscle growth. Consuming more calories than that amount doesn’t lead to more muscle growth or faster muscle growth. It just leads to you getting fat as hell.

See, once you have supplied your body with the extra calories it needs to build muscle, any additional calories you consume beyond that point will just be stored as fat. And with this style of bulking (where little to no attention is put on monitoring calories, and the attempted rate of weight gain is often hilariously high), this is something that always ends up happening.

And that fact right there is EVERYTHING that is wrong with the typical old-school approach to bulking that a surprisingly high number of stupid people still keep trying to make seem right. It’s not.

But What About REALLY Skinny People Who Have A Hard Time Gaining Weight?

Now even if you’re someone who agrees that the old-school “bulking up” method of just eating as much as you can, not closely monitoring calorie intake, and gaining weight fast is totally wrong and dumb for most people… you might however still feel that there is one exception to this. A group of people who a typical “just-shut-up-and-eat” bulk IS ideal for.

I’m talking the super skinny. The guys/girls with naturally thin body types and ectomorph genetics who seem to be unable to gain weight and build muscle no matter how hard they try and how much they eat.

Surely a guy who is something like 5’11 125lbs is someone who would benefit from just “eating whatever isn’t nailed down” and sticking with the old-school bulking approach we just covered, right?



Um, as a dude who literally started lifting at exactly 5’11 125lbs… I’m here to tell you that this approach is still completely and utterly WRONG.

Super skinny or not, eating MORE calories above what is needed for optimal muscle growth will STILL lead to excessive amounts of fat being gained just the same. Sure, it may seem like less of a problem if a really skinny person gains that extra fat rather than someone who isn’t as skinny to start.

But who gives a shit? No one wants to unnecessarily gain extra fat, period. Even the super skinny.

As someone who once fit that description (it may have even been an understatement), I know I sure as hell didn’t. But, all of the advice I was hearing at the time made it seem like someone as skinny as I was needed to ignore everything and just eat a ton. Eat big, get big, right?

Why should someone who is barely 125lbs and the width of a broomstick waste time closely monitoring their calorie intake or try to gain weight at a slower more moderate pace? Someone with my body type should be gaining 20lbs in the next 10 weeks!!! Right?

This seemed to make sense in my silly noob head, so that’s exactly what I did. And do you know what happened? I built some muscle, but I also got fat as hell in the process.

So fat that looking back at those pictures right now still makes me feel terrible. One day I may even fight the embarrassment and post them as proof that a super skinny guy can easily become disgustingly fat as a result of old-school bulking methods and just eating big with no real regard for closely monitoring the exact extent of the caloric surplus and the rate of weight gain taking place.

Want to see an example of a real bulking and cutting transformation from someone who did it the right way? It’s 100% free.
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Weight Gain Can Happen Fast… Muscle Growth CAN’T

That’s why whenever I see people recommend the “eating whatever isn’t nailed down” approach, or to not bother closely counting calories, or suggesting you aim for 2 pounds gained per week (or more), or doing GOMAD (gallon of milk a day) for the purpose of gaining something as insane as 25lbs in 25 days… I do a combination of laugh and cringe.

Seriously… as someone who started off as skinny as anyone ever will, I can tell you firsthand that it’s all just flat out wrong. Even for the super skinny. You’ll certainly gain a ton of weight really fast by following this type of bulking advice. There’s no doubt about that at all, and if all you care about is just gaining weight, then I guess it’s alright.

But if you actually give a crap about what that weight is, then it’s not alright at all. Why? Because the majority of that weight will always be fat, not muscle.

And besides making you look like crap (hooray, now you’re skinny-fat instead of skinny), this is just going to create a much bigger time-wasting job for you when it comes time to cut and get rid of that fat. Trust me, I know.

And I know how tempting the thought of fast weight gain is to someone super skinny. I also know how the weight gain feels awesome at first regardless of what the composition of that weight is. It’s just nice to have people notice that you’re filling out your medium shirts a little better, even though what’s going on underneath that shirt is getting uglier by the pound.

Still, none of this changes the fact that in the end, this type of bulk will ALWAYS cause you to gain a bunch of body fat that you DID NOT NEED TO GAIN!

That’s why I feel that the old-school approach to bulking up is wrong for EVERYONE. Not just “most people,” but the super skinny as well. (Additional details here: Ectomorph Workout & Diet Guide And The Skinny-Fat Hardgainer Solution)

How To Bulk… The Right Way

And now for the new-school approach to bulking, although I use the term “new-school” loosely. There’s nothing really “new” about this type of bulk at all. It’s just that many people have finally seen the light in recent years, so to the people who have been doing it wrong all this time, this just seems like the newer way to bulk.

In reality, it’s just the smarter way to bulk.

The goal with this approach isn’t to just gain weight, eat whatever isn’t nailed down, and get as “big” as possible as fast as possible. Instead, the goal here is to build quality lean muscle mass while keeping fat gains to an absolute minimum.

A caloric surplus is still DEFINITELY required, only now it’s closely monitored and set to a level that is optimal for both muscle growth AND preventing any unnecessary body fat from being gained. The same goes for the rate of weight gain. Since muscle can only be gained so fast, the focus is on slow and gradual (yet still consistent) increases in body weight to ensure muscle is being gained without a ton of fat coming with it.

Similarly, the rest of the diet plan and the entire weight training routine is set up accordingly to improve calorie partitioning (meaning how your body uses the extra calories you’re consuming… to support muscle growth or just go towards fat storage?).

With this type of smart bulking, we’re doing everything we can to ensure muscle is being built as fast as it can while ALSO doing everything we can to ensure there is as little fat as possible coming with it.

Now, unless you’re using drugs and/or have the greatest genetics on the planet, everyone will always gain at least some small amount of fat along with muscle when creating a caloric surplus. But the goal should be to adjust diet and training to ensure the ratio of muscle to fat gain is as ideal as it can possibly be. Details here: How To Gain Muscle Without Gaining Fat

And that’s what this approach to bulking is all about (and why some people like to call it lean bulking or a clean-bulk… but it’s really just a smart-bulk).

So whereas an old-school bulk ends with you having gained some muscle along with a ton of fat that now needs to be lost in order to actually see it, a new-school bulk ends with the same amount of muscle being built, only now there’s significantly LESS fat that needs to be lost.

(UPDATE: Since writing this article a couple of years ago, I’ve had an insane amount of people ask me for more specifics about doing the kind of “smart-bulk” I just described. Well, it took me a while, but I’ve finally put together the ultimate answer. I call it Superior Muscle Growth, and it’s a program designed entirely for one specific purpose: allowing you to build lean muscle as quickly and effectively as realistically possible WITHOUT gaining excess body fat along the way. If you’re interested, I highly recommend it: Superior Muscle Growth)

And that brings us to cutting.

How To Cut… The Wrong Way

The typical old-school approach to cutting is really about just losing weight as fast as possible. It’s probably because at the end of a typical old-school style bulk, you’re so F-ing fat that you just can’t wait to get rid of it by any means necessary… no matter how dumb.

And that describes old-school cutting exactly. There’s usually

  • An extra large reduction to your calorie intake.
  • A huge increase in cardio… something like 30-60 minutes of steady state activity done 5-7 days per week is pretty normal (coming from doing zero cardio during the bulk), with maybe some HIIT thrown in for good measure.
  • A switch from heavy weight and low reps (for bulking and building muscle) to light weight and high reps (for cutting and toning, duh)
  • A switch from eating lots of junk while bulking to only eating “clean” foods now that you’re cutting.
  • A switch from barely paying any attention to nutrient intake to now paying all sorts of OCD-like attention.
  • And it’s usually all added instantly and simultaneously as soon as the bulk is over.

If all of that sounds right to you, then please have a close friend or family member kick you square in the nuts (or, for those without nuts, somewhere equally attention-getting). Everything associated with the old-school approach to cutting is VERY wrong and VERY counterproductive.

Yes, you’ll lose weight for sure… probably really fast too. But, THAT’S the problem with cutting this way. “Weight” isn’t just fat… it can also be muscle. And believe me, when following these methods… you can bet your ass that a significant amount of the weight you lose will be quality lean muscle instead of body fat.

Yup, the same quality lean muscle you just put in a ton of time and effort to build.

And that fact right there is EVERYTHING that is wrong with the old-school style of cutting. Losing weight is simple, but ensuring the weight being lost is fat and NOT muscle takes effort and attention that this approach not only doesn’t provide… but completely goes against. I don’t recommend it to anyone.

Want to see an example of a real bulking and cutting transformation from someone who did it the right way? It’s 100% free.
Download For Free

How To Cut… The Right Way

And now for the new-school approach to cutting. Once again, there’s nothing really new about it. It’s just that it seems “new” in comparison to the silly incorrect way many people have previously gone about doing it. This is really just the smarter way to cut.

The goal with this approach isn’t to just lose weight as fast as possible. The goal here is to lose body fat while maintaining all of your hard-earned muscle and strength.

A caloric deficit is still DEFINITELY required, only now it’s closely monitored (as is the rate of weight loss) and set to a level that will produce optimal fat loss without hindering recovery and negatively impacting your performance in the weight room (which would lead to muscle loss).

Cardio is completely optional but can still definitely be done to create/help create the required deficit. However, it’s programmed properly in sane amounts (and intensities) to avoid the same recovery related problems I just mentioned would lead to muscle loss.

Similarly, the rest of the diet plan (especially protein intake) is set up accordingly to suit the goal of preserving muscle while losing fat in a way that is the perfect combination of highly effective, enjoyable and sustainable.

And, most important of all in terms of maintaining muscle… your weight training routine is designed to provide an optimal muscle maintenance signal, and may also need to be adjusted to compensate for the drop in recovery/performance that comes with being in a caloric deficit (thus helping to ensure that strength levels are maintained). My Fat Loss + Muscle Maintenance Routine (which is now available within my Superior Fat Loss program) makes all of these adjustments for you.

With this type of smart cutting, we’re doing everything we can to ensure body fat is being lost as fast as it can be while ALSO doing everything we can to ensure ALL of our lean muscle and strength is being maintained during the entire process.

So whereas an old-school cut ends with you having lost fat but also a significant amount of muscle and strength right along with it, a new-school cut ends with the desired amount of fat being lost without any problem, and muscle and strength levels maintained perfectly (or, in some cases, possibly even increased).

(UPDATE: I actually just released a brand new program designed from top to bottom to allow you to lose body fat WITHOUT losing lean muscle. Feel free to check it out: Superior Fat Loss)

The End Result: Wrong vs Right

Now that you’ve seen the major differences between these two approaches to bulking and cutting, let’s quickly compare their end results.

The WRONG Way To Do It

When you attempt to build muscle in a way that is associated with “old-school bulk up” methods, you’re always going to end up gaining some amount of excess body fat that you just didn’t need to gain. When you attempt to lose fat in a way that is associated with “old-school cutting” methods, you’re always going to end up losing some amount of muscle and strength that you just didn’t need to lose.

And alternating between these types of bulk and cut cycles is really the ultimate recipe for disaster. You’ll just keep building underwhelming amounts of muscle and while gaining overwhelming amounts of fat, and then go on to lose most of that fat while also losing a large amount (maybe even ALL) of that muscle.

Sounds pretty terrible, huh? Oh… it is. I’ve been there and done that, as have countless others. You just keep gaining and losing the same weight over and over again and end up EXACTLY where you originally started at. No real new muscle or strength, and not really any leaner either. Just spinning your wheels.

If anything, you usually look slightly worse at the end of each bulk and cut cycle.

But that’s what you can expect when you attempt to build muscle and/or lose fat in this manner. I’d absolutely NEVER recommend it. Anyone who does is an idiot, and you can tell them I said so.

The RIGHT Way To Do It

Instead, anyone looking to make these kinds of improvements to their body should do it the way that I’ve described as new-school and smart.

That means if your goal is building muscle, bulk in a way that allows you to slowly but optimally build that muscle while simultaneously keeping fat gains to an absolute minimum. Superior Muscle Growth is tailor made for this exact purpose. If your goal is to lose fat, cut in a way that allows you to lose that fat optimally while simultaneously maintaining all of your lean muscle mass at the same time. My Superior Fat Loss program is entirely designed for that purpose.

And if you want or need to do both, just alternate between cycles of SMART bulking and cutting.

Doing it this way, you can be sure that you’ll always end up with more muscle and less fat than you previously had… as opposed to the other way around.

(Wondering which phase to start with first? Read this: Should I Build Muscle or Lose Fat First?)

Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers and diet professionals at every level.

139 thoughts on “Bulking & Cutting: How To Bulk Up And Cut For More Muscle, Less Fat”


  1. Really great post! I just had one follow up question. How long should each ‘smart’ bulk and cut phase last? Are they more effective if they are shorter or longer?

    • That will vary based on each person and their specific starting point, experience level, goals and preferences for how fat or lean they want (or can tolerate) getting.

      In general though, a guy would ideally start bulking at around 10% body fat and stop before exceeding 15%, at which point they’d switch to cutting. I’ve done it both from lower/higher start and end points, and this seems to be the sweet spot.

  2. When cutting I always find that my libido goes out the window. And I’m not doing silly calorie deficits either (ie I’m running 15-20% under maintenance and keeping 20-30% cals from fat). What I hear is that this is not uncommon and kinda comes with the territory. Is this your experience too and any tips to minimise or even avoid this??

    • Also I should add that I’m getting older – mid 30s (yikes!) – so I am resigned to the fact that I will never see a return to the glory days as a teenager.

      • Yup, that’s one of the many not-so-fun things that frequently come with being in a prolonged caloric deficit.

        Tips for minimizing/avoiding it are pretty much the same tips for minimizing/avoiding most of what sucks about fat loss.

        Take diet breaks every so often (where you go back up to maintenance or maybe even slightly above it for a short term period of time), ensure your macronutrient intake is what it should be (sufficient protein, sufficient total fat and essential fatty acids), and don’t go overboard on the cardio/weights.

        Beyond that, I got 2 words for ya… calorie cycling. I’ve been playing around with different ways of having more calories on training days and less on off days for the last few years (for both bulking and cutting), and I really feel like I’ve found the perfect balance right now in my own diet as I try to get down to single digit body fat levels for the first time in a while. This is the easiest I can remember it being for sure.

        It’s definitely a subject I’ll be writing more about in the future, as it’s something that seems to single-handedly improve a bunch of physiological and psychological aspects of making positive changes to body composition.

  3. Jay…how much cardio do you recommend during a cutting phase? At what point does cardio become too much cardio?

    The reason I ask is that I’m about to start a cutting phase. The right way this time. In addition to my own time in the gym, I usually go to a spin class once a day with my wife. Doing the whole ‘moral support’ thing for her (although I admit that I enjoy going to the classes together and they aren’t easy, even for me).

    So is that too much cardio?

    By the way…just finished the Best Workout Routines…completely awesome. Definitely a core book for me from now on. Thanks for putting the time into it.

    • Awesome to hear you liked the guide! Thanks for the feedback. Now about this cardio stuff…

      Since fat loss requires a caloric deficit, and that deficit can be provided through diet alone, it means there really isn’t ANY need for ANY cardio when cutting. It’s completely optional.

      So because of this, there really is no general “how much cardio should you do” answer. It depends on the specific person.

      For example, for someone who is perfectly fine just eating less to create their deficit, I’d recommend zero cardio. But for someone who’d rather create their deficit (or more likely a portion of their deficit) by doing cardio rather than just diet alone, then I’d recommend whatever amount of cardio is needed to burn the amount of calories that need to be burned for their ideal deficit to be created.

      As for what’s “too much,” that again depends on a bunch of factors. For example, the intensity (walking 4 days a week is nothing compared to doing HIIT 4 days a week). Not to mention, it depends on how (or if) your weight training routine is being adjusted to compensate for the cardio being done. So another example… someone doing 2 lower body workouts per week who wants to add in some HIIT would be wise to maybe drop one of those lower body workouts to compensate for the added stress of HIIT.

      So yeah… it’s kinda complicated and definitely in need of a full article/series of articles to cover in detail. I will write it at some point, I swear. 😉

      And semi-related, there’s also the enjoyment factor. If you like doing that spin class with your wife (and I’m assuming you meant to say once a WEEK rather than once a DAY, right?), you should do it. I mean, playing basketball while bulking just gives me a bigger job to do in terms of now having to eat more to make up for the extra calories burned. But, I like playing basketball. So screw it.

  4. Thanks for the info. I’m actually pretty psyched to start this cycle as I’ve literally always followed all of the “old school” methods of cutting you listed in this article. To less than desired effect.

    And no, I meant that we do a class just about every day we can (depending on my work schedule, ect). Obviously, I’ll be cutting back on those.

    • Ah, well in that case… it’s pretty safe to say it would be WAY too much assuming it’s being done for the typical duration and intensity most spin classes usually are.

      Honestly, I’m not really a fan of cardio at all when the primary goal is losing fat while maintaining muscle/strength. Obviously if you have some sort of conditioning related goal in mind, this changes.

      But if you just want to get really lean and not lose muscle in the process, I generally recommend no cardio for fat loss, or, if anything, some low intensity walking (possibly fasted) on your off days from weight training.

      • Yeah, I’m going to have to cut back. Based on my particular circumstances, though, I wouldn’t be able to get rid of cardio altogether. But cutting back is doable.

  5. Hey, great article. My questions is whatis, what is the best way to start if you are a beginner who needs to lose at least 15 lbs but also wants to gain 10lbs muscle (hence the beginner status).
    I am 30, 195lbs, 185cm, 20% body fat and 40% body fat with 2015 BMR.

    Do you recommend I first cut down to 15% then start bulking and cutting in small cycles to put on that extra muscle? Not sure what to do if goal is to loose weight and gain muscle at same time.

    Sorry for long post. Your help is appreciated.

    • I definitely wouldn’t recommend bulking (meaning creating a surplus) until you are ideally between 10-12% body fat (for a guy). The fatter you are when you start, the worse calorie partitioning will be which means the worse your ratio of muscle to fat gains will be.

      As for what to do right now as a beginner who wants to lose fat and build muscle, I’d recommend creating a moderate deficit so fat is lost, getting a sufficient amount of protein each day, and training your ass off with an intelligently designed beginner routine focused on progression.

      The fact that you’re a semi-fat beginner gives you the short term ability to actually build muscle while losing fat. I’d suggest taking advantage of it while you can, and then when you reach the ideal levels of leanness, switch over to a smart bulking cycle.

  6. My question is couldn’t it be argued that the old school version of cutting wouldn’t be terrible if it was the first thing you are doing if you are starting with a bodyfat of say 22+% and hadn’t been working out at all in an extended period of time. Basically if you are in a situation where the muscle loss doesn’t bother you because you really haven’t been trying to build any anyway or am I off base here?

    • A few things. First, what you’re describing is less about “cutting” (which actually refers to losing body fat to uncover the muscle you’ve built, ideally without losing any of it in the process) and more about just “fast weight loss.”

      Second, even if you haven’t been training, you still have muscle to lose. So going with that silly old school cutting method can still result in muscle loss even in that situation.

      Third, in that situation (a fat beginner), the person would actually have the short term ability to build some muscle while losing that fat. But if they’re going about their fat loss in the typical old school cutting way, that ability will be lessened or eliminated.

      So, if you don’t care at all about losing muscle, building muscle, maintaining muscle or really anything other than just losing weight, old school cutting is fine. But if you do, then I wouldn’t recommend it.

  7. Hey, I like the guide and the level of feedback you have given here.

    I have been going gym for about 1yr now, I started at 24% body fat with very little muscle. Now I am 17% body fat with a lot more muscle mass. I still have excess fat around my lower stomach and back, but in general I look good.

    I have not yet bulked once since I started gym almost a yr ago I have been following a similar program to the new style cutting. Should I NOT bulk until I reach 10-12% body fat or is it worth bulking for a period at my current body fat levels?

    My personal goal is to get lean whilst keeping the muscle I have got, however would I be beeter off building more (bulking) then cutting as I have never bulked before? Geeting rid of the excess fat on the stomach is probably most important to me.

    Cheers 😀

    • Two things instantly stand out here. First, you said: “Geeting rid of the excess fat on the stomach is probably most important to me.”

      That alone is reason enough to keep on losing fat and hold off on bulking until after.

      Second, you mentioned that you’re currently 17% body fat. At that level, even if your #1 goal right now was to build muscle, I’d still recommend holding off on bulking and continue losing fat. When you hit 13% body fat or less, that would be the ideal time to switch.

  8. I’ve adopted the cycling system, as you mentioned earlier in this post. Largely due to a long period of being out of shape (and being the fattest I had ever been in my life), I dieted for for about 4 months and hit my goal quite successfully. (From 92kg now 75kg)

    The experience gave me an understanding of the feed back I get from my body, and I have been hovering quite successfully between 13.5 and 16% body fat while I build muscle.

    I always make sure I’m in calorie excess about 12hrs before and after each work out, and pretty much keep a minimal deficit in between. If I suspect I’ve had too many calories over a week I’ll make a bit more of a deficit on my 2day break between workouts. I almost do it sub-consciously. I just listen to my body if that doesn’t sound strange?

    Since i started “hovering” for about the last three months I’ve noticed the muscle start to really come on, and looking forward to a final cut getting closer to x-mas.

    This site has definitely been been a big part of achieving my personal goals, haven’t looked back since I found it.

  9. Best article about bulk and cut i’ve ever read! Thank you.
    Just one questio: You have written about the body fat% of men to start bulking. What’s about the fat % of women to start the change from cut to bulk?

  10. Hi, good informative article!!! I am new to body-building and will start a “bulk” soon. I am 172 cm and 58 kg(5’8 and 128 pounds)around 15% BF .
    Two questions:
    1. Say I want to be 65-70 kg at around 10-13% BF. What is my goal weight before cut?
    2. Should I recalculate maintenance calories every now and then to adjust surplus/deficit to the current weight?
    Thank you!!!!!!

    • 1. I wouldn’t pay much attention to weight, I’d pay more attention to body fat percentage. For men, a bulk should ideally start between 10-12% body fat (or less) and end around 15-16%.

      2. I’d calculate maintenance just that initial time, then adjust the surplus/deficit based on what actually ends up happening. So if after a certain number of weeks your weight stalls for 2 weeks straight, I’d adjust calorie intake at that point, usually by around 200-300 calories.

  11. Very good guide! Lot’s of good stuff here.

    I have been half-ass bulking for about 3 months now, gained about 22 lbs (high metabolism ectomorph) lifting heavy, high sets, low reps. I’m going to continue this for about two month before cutting.

    You mentioned in the article that lowering the weights and upping the reps is the wrong way to cut and get defined muscles, could you explain the right way? Should i continue lifting heavy, with high sets and low reps and just change my diet?

    Thanks again for this article 🙂

  12. hey loved the article … what is the ideal amount of weight loss per week during a cut? also is it ok just to jump right into a defecit from a surplus ? or maybe consume maintenance for a while and then slowly cut back by a couple hundred calories at a time? thanx

    • More if you have more weight to lose (1-2lbs per week), less if you have less weight to lose (0.5-1 pound per week).

      When transitioning from deficit to surplus, a short period at maintenance is usually beneficial first. The other way around… from surplus to deficit… it’s usually less important but can’t hurt.

  13. Ok so I’ve been smart cutting for about 2 months now. I’ve gradually gotten down to consuming 1700 calories a day, 40 grams of fat, and 170 carbs a day. I’ve lost a lot of fat and maintained most of my muscle. I’ve lost about 15 pounds and I’m ready to go to a “maintenance” diet, or even a bulk. How should I gradually start increasing my food intake?

  14. You’re a FUCKING GOD!!!! All of your articles are just the superb in-your-face type of truth that it’s just astonishing (; and you have a great sense of humour too

  15. This article is awesomeness, ok so I started bulking but I don’t know when is the right time to start cutting? Is it the last month of 5month program? Plz help with this

  16. Hi, I started bulking 15 months ago and went from 65kg to 100kg and look pretty cut excluding the abs which are still present but have decreased. Most of my weight however comes from my lower body and I would like to drop to about 90kg fully shredded with <6% body fat. How much times should i do cardio a week and what intensity. Also, should i still lift heavy or a percentage of my maximum?

    • Cardio needs a full article to cover. It’s on my to-do list.

      And yes, you should still lift heavy. It’s the primary signal that tells your body to maintain muscle during fat loss.

  17. Hi. Great read but slightly bedazled .. Could you simplify one question for me? : )
    If I am only a small woman but have some small amounts of stomach fat to reduce should I enter a cutting cycle or just use the muscles more lol thanks x

  18. Thanks for the great advice! What would you recommend to measure my body fat as far as being accurate and not over-the-top expensive?

    • Honestly? The best and most doable way is to get a realistic idea of what various body fat percentages actually look like, and use a mirror/pictures to objectively judge where you’re at.

  19. That’s quality information right there.

    I am interested in your opinion Jay , I just don’t trust anyone but you 😀

    What do you think about bulking one day cutting the other , can the body work this way?

    I mean 3 training days eating +20% surplus > building muscles 3 days a week
    4 days eating -20% deficit > losing fat 4 days a week

    And what’s your thought about “cyclical bulking”

    For example you bulk for 1 month and cut for 1 week

    Thank you very much Jay

    • What you’re describing sounds like a little like a recomp approach, although since you have 4 deficit days vs 3 surplus days your net calorie intake for the week is a deficit (which means you’ll very slowly lose some fat, but most likely build little to no muscle). I write a bit more about this approach here (see #4).

      As for bulking and cutting cycles, there’s a dozen different ways to do it and each have their own pros and cons. Would take a full article to properly cover, though.

  20. Thanks for this logical and educated article. I am tired of everyone out there advising people to eat till they puke. Seems like this goes on in every bodybuilding forum.
    Anyway, I have one question. I am 36, 5′ 6″, 140 lbs, and around 10-11% bf. So, a small frame with bit of muscle already on. I’ve been doing the “smart” cut for a few months now, I started at some 20-22% bf. My goal was to get down to 8% bf before starting a bulk, with an idea of maintaining abs during the bulk. I am curious as to why you advise only cutting down to 10-15% bf before starting a bulk. For me, my #1 goal is to have abs (not quite there yet) and secondary to add lean muscle mass, about 10-15 lbs.

    • You can certainly cut down to 8% before bulking, that’s fine. For others, it’s a lot hard, takes more time, potentially causes more muscle loss, etc. and they just want to get back to building more muscle.

      In that case, cutting down to 10% and then bulking till about 15% is usually ideal.

  21. Hi, i’m . 5’11, 207 pounds, im probally in the range of 15-20 percent body fat.. my bmr/activity level tells me just to maintain, i would consume 3047 calories a day. To lean down/cut, should i be cutting calories by 300? or more to cause a moderate deficit? Maybe Start the bulk when i’m 13% percent bf? Goal is to lower body fat and increase size and strength. Currently on program to do just that..


  22. Hi, I have just completed your “Best Diet Plan” Guide and have to say i am extremely impressed with how in detail it is. I am 21 male, weighing 13.11stone (183 pounds) Have been bulking for last few months taking in around 4000cals per day and managed to put on 2 stone which i am happy with. I am now looking to cut down and as i have never actually done a cutting cycle before i was looking for help with it and your guide did just that! I have know worked out i need around 200g protein, 67g of good fats and 250g of carbs. Which works out as 2400 cals per day. Now iv been hitting the gym 4x a week without touching cardio. My question is coming down from 4000cals per day to 2400 should i slowly drop the cals before jumping this low?? I must admit i always thought cutting carbs right down was how a cutting cycle worked so 250g of carbs seems quite alot, but i wont knock it untill iv tried it! Also you would it be sensible to start including a couple of cardio sessions per week? Very worried about this cutting cycle as i have always been a very skinny guy and now i am at a good weight i thought it was time to shred down but worried i may go back to looking too skinny!!

    Any Advice would be much appreciated.

  23. Hi. I read the articles. They were amazing. I have a few questions about my training. I started a year back . I had an annoying belly and weighed around 85 kgs. Back then, I had no idea about ‘fat’ loss, so, all I did was, ate less and did lots of cardio. Within six months, I came down to 62-63 kgs. I certainly must have lost a lot of muscle mass too, but most of the weight loss still came from fat. Around 6-8 months back, I started training with weights. I gained a little muscle mass and did see some increase in my strength too. However, till now, I was creating a slight caloric deficit only, to somehow lose fat AND gain muscle at the same time. I did have results, but they were very, very slow. I started bulking from last two weeks only, this year, and am creating a surplus of 250-300 calories a day, a gram of protein per pound. I train with weights 6 days a week, and do 20-30 mins of cardio daily. I weigh 65 as of now, and I’m 5’10. I have a pretty clearly visible 4 pack even at 12% bodyfat. However, I don’t know why exactly, but, my waist size has slightly increased and the skin around the lower abdomen is slightly more jiggly. Hence, I feel like my bodyfat is increasing and muscle gain isn’t happening. I know it’s too early to expect any visible results at all. But still. I hope my diet routine is the type that would be helpful. If not, please guide me about what exactly should I do to ensure a visible change in my body? Maybe the weight training isn’t nearly as effective? Or maybe the cardio is hampering muscle gains? But still, I’m not overtraining any bodypart, and creating a caloric surplus daily. Seems so confusing. What exactly shall I do?

    • Weight training 6 days per week? That could be your first problem… as 6 weight training workouts per week does not sound ideal and is associated with a bunch of other stuff that also isn’t ideal. More here.

  24. How would one go about cutting or bulking if they play sports and have to do intense workout that can’t be avoided

      • One more thing does the type of cardio change the amount of muscle I would lose if I adjusted the amount of cal like lets say if I ran for an hour and added 200 calories or walked for an hour and added 100 calories would I lose more muscle with the running or would it matter? Note I made up the calorie adjustment for example purposes

        • The more intense the cardio is, the more likely it will be to cut into recovery… which increases the risk of muscle loss.

          Generally speaking, walking is the least intense/least stressful/least problematic type of cardio you can do.

  25. Hi, with bulking on the days your not training are you still required to increase calories or keep calories at a maintenance on rest days

    • It can be done both ways, and I plan to eventually write an article explaining the pros and cons of each approach.

      The key thing however is that the same total weekly surplus is there in both cases.

  26. Hey I really enjoyed reading this article and i was relating to everything you were saying… Like how you also tried the old school bulking method at first when you were 125 lbs. I remember how i tried to eat everything in front of me because i was 120 lbs around 8 months ago. I’m 145 now and i certainly gained muscle but I also gained A SHITLOAD of fat especially on my face and belly. I’m thinking about decreasing my calorie intake by 500. How long do you think it will take to lose the excess fat on my face and stomach.. Just wondering how long did it take you to lose that amount of fat and how much did you reduce your calorie intake by? Arghhhh, i wish i knew the smarter way of bulking and cutting beforehand.. it would have saved so much time and energy… But thanks for this article! I learned a lot and i can’t wait to cut the correct way haha

  27. i have bulked since last August, my weight has gone from 73-74kg to 86-87kg since then. I initially (in the first month and a half) took the ‘old school’ bulking method eating copious amounts of food, unsurpisingly resulting in some muscle gain but also fat (I went from 73-74 to 81-82kg in this first month and a half). I then tailored it down, and for three months, i kept my weight about the same, however I wasn’t eating enough on rest days.

    In January, I started to eat more (keeping rest day intake the same as training days which was 3600-3900 at this point), and my weight went up to what it is now. Now I am at the stage where I am considering cutting, but also feel that maybe I should continue to bulk, but consume a lower surplus. I think that my body fat percentage is 12-13ish

    My maintenance level is about 2900, would a surplus of 300-400 be enough? this would have me consuming about 3300 cals a day. do you feel this is an optimal amount for bulking?

    • If you’re past the beginner stage, your surplus should be whatever amount is needed to cause you to gain about 2lbs per month. Typically a daily surplus of about 250 calories is a good place to start.

  28. I’m going to guess the answer to my question is “depends”, but I’ll ask anyway. If you’re in a smart bulking phase, about how long would you expect progressive overload to take, or about how many workouts? For instance, let’s take overhead shoulder press (I really want to say bench, but I’m sure that’s what everyone would say so I’m trying to seem like a “real” body builder), if I can OH press 105 pounds, 8-10 reps for 3 sets and I move up to 110 pounds, if I’m bulking, about how many workouts would you expect it take to hit 110# for 8-10 reps for 3 sets?

    I’m asking to try to figure out about how much progression can be made in a certain time frame. So, if my goal was to bulk until I could press 120 pounds, I need X many workouts, or weeks to do it, so if i gain 2 pounds a month, I would gain Y many pounds before I hit my goal. Or, is it better to not have a number in mind, since I know at a certain weight, I would need new clothes, so I want to bulk until I get close to that weight, then cut until the clothes are baggy again, and so on. It would just be so disheartening to say, I’m going to bulk for 5 months, gain 10 pounds, but then only progress 10 pounds or so on the weights.

    I’ve been cutting since January as a beginner, and lost about 20 pounds, but now I would say I’m in maintenance. Not by choice, just because it’s summer and I’m a little more free with the malt beverages. I hover around 175, a pound either way for the most part, and I’ve noticed it takes about 6 or 7 workouts to progress. Even then I wonder if sometimes it was a good day as I finally get that 10, 8, 8 then move up 5 pounds the next time and get 10, 6, 4 and I’m thinking seriously? 5 pounds makes that much difference!? I’m at about 18% body fat so I still need to cut for a while longer, but when I switch to bulking, I’m wondering what type of gains to expect if that’s even possible to answer?

    • You called it… it depends.

      All that truly matters though is that things are moving in the right direction, and you’re doing everything possible to make it move in that direction as well as is realistically possible.

  29. Jay,

    I’ve read your advice that (for guys) the ideal body fat range for bulking/cutting is 10-15%. But the problem, as you know, is how to actually measure that, since there really aren’t very good options. You mentioned that visual appearance is as good as anything else, but do you have any links to any pictures of good representations of these numbers? All the ones I’ve found online are totally useless for differentiating between 10% and 15%.

    As an aside, I do own one of those bioelectric impedance scales, but the problem with it is that it has two modes, “regular” and “athletic”. The difference? Exactly 5%. Meaning, if I measure myself on “regular” it might tell me I’m 14% and two seconds later I’ll measure on “athletic” and it will give me 9%. For someone who lifts 3 days a week but otherwise doesn’t do much else, which of these settings do you think is closer to reality? If visual info helps, I’ll say that I can definitely see abs in the mirror, but it’s not a six-pack situation by any means. I don’t have any flab, but I do have some fat on my stomach that could go. No love handles, and no excess fat anywhere else really.


  30. I noticed you mentioned bulking to 15% body fat and then cutting back to 10-12% body fat. What are the pros/cons to bulking all at once, and then cutting at once?

  31. Instead of alternating between bulking and cutting phases, I mean going through a long, slower bulk phase. And then once reaching the desired point, cutting until reaching the final desired point. The reason I ask is I’m planning to continue my bulk for another 6 months, and then cutting, and I just wanted to know if I will be at a disadvantage by doing this, as my bodyfat % will be over 15% at some point for sure before I begin my cutting phase.

    • This is pretty much what I recommend. Alternating really short periods of growth/fat loss phases sucks in my opinion. I prefer a person start at a low body fat, bulk to an acceptable body fat (which for a guy isn’t too much higher than 15%… going too much above that will negatively impact calorie partitioning), then cut back down to the low body fat and do it all over again.

  32. BTW, I want to say thanks for taking your time to put so much information together on lifting. I’ve been trying for years, and never really figured out what I was doing wrong, until I came across your site about a year ago. I’m 34, and I’ve never had the gains I’ve had this past year, using the information that you posted on routines, and nutrition as it pertains to muscle building. The information is very much appreciated!

  33. A tremendous article Jay! What would you consider to be optimal in terms of moving from cutting to bulking? That would be 700-800 cal difference in my case. Don’t want to do it suddenly but also don’t want to spend too long to reach bulking. Thanks!

  34. Hi Jay. Thanks for all the great advice. Really loving your site!

    I have a similar question to Michael above. Based on the photos of people in the 10 – 15% bf range, it looks like sometime around a clearly visible 4-pack would be the right time to move back to bulking. Would that be a reasonable rule of thumb?

    (I like to think I’m at about 12% bf which probably means I’m closer to 15. 🙂 There’s a hint of abs, but nothing definitive so I think I’ve still got a bit of cutting to do.)

    • Hard to say. Some people can see abs at higher/lower body fat percentages than others (mainly dependent on fat storage patterns and how developed/underdeveloped a persons abs are).

      But generally speaking, if you can see your abs fairly well, you’re usually lean enough to bulk.

  35. Makes sense – thanks. Impressive that you still keep on top of comments to a three year old post!

  36. Thanks for the info here!
    You’ve given the ideal body fat ranges for starting and stopping a bulk, how about for women?
    (Sorry if you already answered this – I tried scrolling through the comments but didn’t see it).


  37. Hi, I read this article and another one that was about skinny-fat people. With thousands of websites on internet and all of these made me much more confused and sad. Confused because yeah i still dont know should i lose wight first or bulid muscle and no one is talking about diets. But between all sites i found you much more reasonable.
    So i don’t have another choice to ask you help me, i m woman 26 years old 5 feet 6 inches , and i was 141 lb first , but i has fat only in my belly, my arms and legs were thin, but i did nt know about skinny fat, anyway i started a 1200 calorie diet, and i could reach 121 lb, but the fact that i still had all the fat in my love handles and my belly and nothing has changed, made me think maybe i m doing something wrong, then i read about skinny fat and bulking and then cutting i wanted to start that process till i read your article and that really scared me to death that i gain all that weight as fat i tried hard to loose before,
    Based on your article, i think i m fat, but though i dont have any big muscles, and i dont know how much 121 lb is a right weight for me i m even more confused.
    Please help me :-/
    Should i lose more weight till i get to lowest i can be which i read 116 lb is the lowest for me, or should i start lifting , and if i start lifting i have to eat more calories or maintain it in 1800 calorie that dr said to me,
    That would be a great kind of you, if you could tell me cause i m very sad of result i ve got till now، i just dont know what to do…:-/

  38. Are the fat measuring scales accurate? Do you recommend any weighing scale which measures fat percentage?

  39. Thanks for the interesting read. I have talked with a few people who work out quite a bit and I’m a little torn between which path to take. I am 6’2″ and roughly 190lbs. I don’t know my body fat % but most of the people I talk to have said I should bulk first then shred. But I feel that’s the wrong approach. I am currently working on trimming down then bulking up. Which option should I take? I’m a pretty lean guy with a little pudge on the sides. Thanks for the help.

  40. Jay do you really think it is necessary to bulk and cut? I mean, for regular people who workout but don’t want to enter competitions or become pro bodybuilders. I don’t mean to be arrogant, I am just curious. If i workout three times a week (I am doing your beginner routine btw) and have a fairly balanced diet can’t I build some muscle and lose fat?

    Congrats for the website, your articles are great!

    • That depends on how you want to define “bulk” and “cut.” To me they are just stupid words to describe a period of time where you’re in a surplus focusing on muscle growth (with minimal fat gains), and a period of time where you’re in a deficit focusing on fat loss (with minimal muscle loss). So if you want to build any amount of muscle and/or lose any amount of fat, you kinda have to be doing this.

  41. hi jay, i’m starting your beginners routine, you seems legit. I just wanted to know, i’ve never bench pressed in my life, so how would i do ‘progressive overload’ on a bench without a spotter? It seems that if i don’t reach my 8 reps i would be stuck in the down position, unable hoist the barbell back on its rack

    Also, what is your opinion on free motion machines? they use cables so your range of movement i’snt as restricted as it would be on isolation machines. Is it a good compromise between isolation and free weights? could it replace some of the free weights exercises?

  42. So why not just eat large amounts of lean calories all the time and skip to need to “Bulk” and “cut”?

  43. I’m a small petite woman. 5″1. Could maybe lose 8 pounds. Maybe. So why would I want to bulk? I see lots of woman doing this. I just don’t understand why if you workout and eat the right way.

    • If your goal is fat loss, you’d focus on losing fat. If you’re goal wi muscle growth, you’d focus on that (which would entail a caloric surplus… which is a period of time nicknamed “bulking”).

  44. Does your book deal with how losing weight for women may be ( I’m not sure) different for women and men? I am a 5.5 female and 137pound/~21%bf. I would like to get down 10 max 15 pounds and 15-16% BF but have plateaued. But have been struggling with over eating especially after working out as I feel super hungry after a heavy workout, as well as serious stress eating. I put no blame on anyone but myself. I am not overweight by American standards but feel sluggish and lethargic and no longer fit into my clothes (and normally am around 125-127 pounds) so feel weight loss will help, and, well really want to lose this extra weight, as well as take pressure off my knees and back. Any specific tips or If your book address some or all of this would help. Thank you kindly.

  45. For leaning and bulking shall I use a different workout routine and shall I still try to progressive overload for both ?

  46. Hi. I am running into some busy times with work, school and family and need to keep things basic for a while. I’m trying to do most of my weight training at home with adjustable DB, BB weights and a pullup bar.

    I really like version 2A of the targeted routines because it hits everything well. I am happy with my leg strength and size so I’m not overly concerned with having a leg day. I was doing the fat loss routine but it was just getting a bit time consuming in my garage.

    Should I just remove a set on the Incline DB press from the push workout and the BB rows from the pull workout, and just keep the isolation sets and reps as is?

    Thank you!

        • Honestly, it’s really any of the push/pull workouts. I find it easier to concentrate on one or the other. I really like to do something upper body every workout. I am not very motivated when I have a week where have to do lower body only twice and that week since that’s not my goal.

          • You can pretty much use any 3 day program from the book during fat loss, optionally making similar adjustments to the ones that were made in the Fat Loss + Muscle Maintenance program.

  47. I know you do don’t recommend it(and probably you don’t like it) despite your preference, just to know, do mini surplus and deficit cycles work? Like 2 month of surplus and 3 weeks deficit. Because some people freak out when it comes to eat at surplus for a long time.

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