You’ve probably asked yourself: how to gain muscle while losing fat?
Or as many newbie often ask, “Is it possible to gain quality muscle, while simultaneously losing fat?”
Well, for some gifted individuals, it may actually be possible, but it would require so much experimenting and playing around, that in the end, it is not worth it.
Generally, if you want quick results, we recommend you to periodize your training accordingly.
“Losing fat and building muscle doesn’t require miracles (or specific miracle products), but it does involve a smart approach to fitness and nutrition. Columbia university” (1)
Bulking and cutting- Which one is first?
The most common question in the fitness masses, period.
If you don’t answer this question to yourself, you’re in for an eternal stagnation.
Before we get into the details, let’s differentiate the two periods- Bulking and cutting:
A period of time, during which the individual’s goal is to stack on as much muscle mass as possible, while increasing strength capabilities.
This period implies eating at a surplus of calories — more calories than your body needs to maintain its weight.
A period of time, during which the trainee’s goal is to cut as much fat as possible, while maintaining the muscle mass and good health.
This period implies eating at a deficit of calories — less calories than your body requires to maintain its weight.
Now you might be thinking “B..but, why do I have to choose, can’t I just do both simultaneously?”.
Well, shortly, the answer is- It is nearly impossible to do so.
Knowing that bulking requires a surplus and cutting requires a deficit, we can conclude that it would be best to periodize training and nutrition.
The best results will be achieved if you prioritize one goal at a time.
“Anabolism, the process of building muscle, requires a consistent intake of calories, especially protein, plus appropriate resistance exercise to stimulate the many cells involved in muscle development and adequate rest to allow repair and growth of muscle tissue. Columbia university” (2)
Approaching your goals
Generally, most people find it hard to understand the two concepts.
The goal of bulking is to increase lean mass as much as possible, while simultaneously, refraining from too much fat gains.
On the other hand, the goal of cutting is burning body fat, while minimizing muscle loss.
If your approach is wrong (and it is, for most gym rats), you will gain too much fat during your bulk and will lose too much muscle during the cutting period.
Sooner or later, you’ll reach a dead end.
Something else to keep in mind is that bulking also requires a strict diet.
We’re talking quality bulking.
Gaining mass doesn’t mean binging on burgers every single day.
Instead, track your macro and caloric intake, to make up for a consistent, moderate surplus.
Otherwise, you will just get fat.
Unless of course, you’re skinny by nature and your fat is well distributed, evenly across the whole body.
So, yes, bulking without gaining fat is hard. However, cutting without losing muscle is also hard!
Controlled periods of bulking, followed by controlled periods of cutting.
If you do your bulk right, you will actually DECREASE your body fat percentage.
And we don’t mean “Burn fat” here, but rather increase the ratio of muscle: fat, in favor of muscle. Gaining muscle with no fat gains= Lower body fat percentage.
Which one to do first?
Now, if you have this question in mind, odds are you, you have body fat you want to burn and you also want to build muscle and get stronger.
Tips to determine where to start…
- If your body fat percentage is high, go for cutting. I.e you have love handles/beer belly.
- If your body fat percentage is moderate/high but still bearable, you can bulk first.
How long should you cut/bulk?
Physiologically, we burn fat much faster than we gain muscle mass.
That is to say that the length of the separate periods must not be the same.
Generally, the cutting period lasts for about 2 to 3 months, depending on the amount of fat that has to be cut.
If you try to cut faster by eating less, you will not meet your body’s needs and you will quickly burn the precious muscle mass.
On the other hand, the bulking period lasts more than 6 months and sometimes, even years.
That is because, as we said, gaining mass takes a substantial amount of time.
Picture it this way: Imagine you goal.
Say it’s gaining 3 kilograms of muscle for 4 months.
Now imagine 3 kilograms of pork meat.
Or even better, if you’re in the store… take a look at a big package of meat and imagine your body generating all of that.
It will take some time. Especially if you are natural.
So, most of all. Set realistic goals, whether you are going to bulk or cut.
How to cut fat
Many people think you have to do inhuman amounts of cardio to burn fat. And that is not true.
The only MANDATORY thing you need to do, when cutting fat is: Subjecting yourself to a caloric deficit consistently.
Just consume less calories than your body requires to maintain its weight, over a good period of time and you will lose that fat.
Doing cardio and resistance training is recommended too.
While they are not really the main reason for fat loss, you can get their benefits.
Cardio will help you burn some energy and boost your internal processes, as well as the cardiovascular system.
Resistance training on the other hand, will help you preserve and shape up the muscle.
The resistance training during the fat loss period is more oriented towards lighter weights, higher reps and lower rest times in-between sets and exercises.
Refrain from lifting heavy weights until failure.
How to bulk up
The optimal bulk, for beginners, intermediates and advanced trainees, is the bulk during which you minimize fat gains.
We recommend eating at a surplus of not more than 250-300 calories per day.
Grant yourself a good amount of protein (1 gr. Per lb. Of bodyweight), as well as a good amount of carbohydrates.
Carbs will fuel your workouts and protein will help you recover afterwards.
The training during the bulking period should be oriented towards higher intensity, moderate to high volume and longer rest times between sets and exercises.
For intermediates and advanced athletes, we generally recommend using a split-based program, which allows you to train each muscle group twice a week.
For beginners, we recommend 3-4 full body workouts weekly.
Check out our article on “Which training split is the BEST?”
Alright, let’s wrap this up with a list of important things to remember
- Trying to bulk up and lose fat at the same time will give you sub-optimal results. Choose one and periodize training.
- Have an objective look at yourself- Are you too fat? If yes, cut. Is your fat bearable and you’re more inclined towards gaining muscle? Bulk up. But don’t get too fat.
- Train and eat according to your goals. If you’re cutting, go for a sustainable deficit and do light workouts. If you’re bulking, go for a low to moderate surplus and train like a beast. Period.
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(2) Same as 1.