Bulking & Cutting Revisited

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Nutrition, Training

I’ve covered this topic before but judging by some of the questions I receive I may not have been clear enough. So I’m gonna try it again…

Fuck bulking and cutting.


The concept of bulking and cutting is old school bullshit that went out with fanny packs and jean shorts. For the initiated it means that you eat like crap for several months while training hard and heavy. The theory behind it is that it’s impossible to gain large amounts of muscle mass without getting fat in the process. So you accept a bunch of fat gain along with the additional muscle during the bulking phase then you switch over into “cutting” mode and diet off all the fat.

What’s supposed to happen is that you gain thirty pounds during a bulk, ten of which will be fat, and then during the cutting phase you lose all the fat and keep 90% or more of the muscle. If you bulked for four months and then cut for four months you would theoretically end up gaining about fifteen pounds of lean muscle at the end of eight months. For a natural guy who has been training properly for more than 3-5 years this would be HUGE.

Unfortunately it never works out that way. We all wish it were that easy, but it just aint. If bulking and cutting worked so well there would be far fewer supplement ads because people would be easily achieving the results they wanted. In that case there wouldn’t be as many desperate dudes looking for the solution to their problems for these companies to advertise to.

What Really Happens During Bulking & Cutting

What really happens during a bulking phase is that you gain at least as much fat as you do muscle. That’s usually the best case scenario. More often than not people actually gain more fat than muscle during a 12-16 week bulk. Instead of the hoped for twenty pound muscle gain along with just ten pounds of fat it turns out to be twenty pounds of fat with ten pounds of muscle.

Even if it was 50/50 at the end of your bulk phase you still only end up with maybe an additional two to five pounds of muscle eight months later. For a guy who has been training for more than five years that’s a very good gain but getting fat in the process isn’t necessary or smart.

A smarter approach would be to aim for slower gains while staying lean throughout the whole process. At the end of the year you will still end up making the same progress but having not had to go through the fat-ass phase.

When you allow yourself to get fatter you not only increase the size of your fat cells but there is also evidence showing that you can increase the number of fat cells you have. This means that it will forever be easier to get fat again and harder to get lean. So basically one or two “bulk” phases gone awry and you’re fucked for life.

As many people have said before, the best way to get lean is to never get fat in the first place.

What About Former Fat Powerlifters Who Got Jacked?

This isn’t my first foray onto the internet, however, and I know that people like to argue. So allow me to address the former powerlifter example.

There are plenty of cases of former 275-300 plus pound powerlifters who have slowly dieted down, over the course of 12-36 months, and ended up looking incredible. Some of them are friends of mine.

But before you get too excited about this possibility let me point out what some may be overlooking…

You can’t simply eat burgers and pizza every day for the next twelve months and expect to look like one of the fattest guys in The Worlds Strongest Man. No, no, no. That won’t happen by a long shot. No matter how much you eat, and even how many drugs you take, you can only build muscle so fast. If you’ve been training properly for more than three to five years muscle growth will come at a snails pace regardless of what you do. So at the end of a one year bulk that gets you up to 275 you will look like someone on one of those weight loss shows; far more sloppy and obese than muscular and imposing.

To eat and train your way up to a legitimate 250-275 pounds (without being an obese slob, but still pretty fat) will take most people a decade, bare minimum (if it was physically possible for you at all). Then you will have to remain there for another several years just to kind of lock that weight in so your body knows that that is a normal condition to exist in. At that point you can start the process of very, very slowly dieting down over the course of several months. This could take over a year in some cases. The end result, after 10-20 years of hard work is that you will be one of the biggest, most jacked dudes in your neighborhood at a rock solid 220 or so.

Now you just have to ask yourself if you’re willing to spend all those years walking around looking like an offensive lineman and pounding down 6,000 calories per day or if you’d be happier with a smarter, slower, healthier approach.

I prefer and recommend the latter. I’ve done the old school bulking and cutting nonsense. I don’t have anyone do it anymore.

Get Lean Once & Stay Lean Forever

Staying lean is very important to your health and performance. Getting fat is unhealthy and decreases your performance.

My advice is to get down to around 15% body-fat or lower and remain there when trying to gain size. When your body-fat is 15% or lower while training and eating for size a greater portion of the weight you gain will be muscle. If you are fat get lean first before you start focusing on muscle gain because most of the weight you gain will be fat. So lose the excess fat first. Your body will be more anabolic.

Once you are lean enough to start a muscle building diet make sure to be smart about it. Stick with primarily healthy foods and don’t go overboard on the calories. You definitely need to bring in more calories than you burn, but not inordinately more than that.

Let’s assume you have been training for a few years and that the absolute most weight you could gain would be two pounds of muscle per month. For those beyond the newbie stage this would be an enormous gain at the end of the year but we’ll be optimistic and go with it. If we assume that it takes an additional 3500 calories per week to gain a pound of muscle how many extra calories per day do you honestly think you need?

I failed math and my calculator’s broken so I’ll wait while you break out yours.

The point is that if your maintenance caloric intake is 2600 you definitely don’t need to eat 5,000 calories per day. Take measurements, watch the scale, the mirror and your weight room numbers and adjust up or down accordingly. If you get to the point where you can’t buckle your pants you’re on the wrong path. If your shirt sleeves are getting tighter you’re usually on the right path.

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Leave a Reply

31 Responses to Bulking & Cutting Revisited

  1. The Get in Shape Girl January 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    My boyfriend is getting this!! He wants to be lean(er) – I want him to get jacked! We both win!

  2. Kevin January 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    I like it homeboy—-I’m excited for this new RD to come out.

    When are you dropping it???

    Do Inner circlers get first crack at it????

    GO G-MEN!!!! Can’t believe we’re going to the big show again!!!!


  3. Jim January 23, 2012 at 2:40 pm #


  4. Sean January 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    I’m assuming this is only for those who don’t have broken metabolisms. Otherwise I would assume that you gotta get that in check before beginning a leaning phase correct?

    GO G-MEN!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Thanks in advance!

    • Jason Ferruggia January 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

      Yup, you need to boost calories for a while if your metabolism is broken.

  5. Alex January 23, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Awesome post !!
    Its exactly there.. around 15%, that insulin sensivity starts to crack.
    I’n my case i like to keep it around 10-15% all year round.
    I wont say i dont like to eat a litlle more during the winter, but ill be making a really slow bulk from 10 to 15% during 6-8 months
    That way i can keep myself longer on a caloric surplus (around 500-700 cals) by not exagerating.. and the body can adjust to that weight slowly, not loosing it quickly when cutting in the remaining 4 months.
    Anyway, having more than 15%, you feel strong but sluggish.
    Nothing beats that feeling of flexibility when you get down to 10 again…

  6. Scott Tousignant January 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    Amen! Excellent advice Jason.

    I busted my butt to get ripped and I don’t want to see all of that hard work to go down the tubes. When I began my muscle building phase I made a deal with myself that I would a) accept slower gains, b) end my muscle building phase when my lower abs began to fade away.

    It took 14 weeks to see those lower abs begin to fade and in the process I gained a few pounds of muscle. It’s absolutely amazing what a few pounds of muscle can do for your physique. You don’t need to gain 10-20 pounds of muscle to see a dramatic improvement in your appearance.

    Because I didn’t do the traditional bulk up, it’s only going to take me a few weeks to get ripped again, and then I’ll go on another muscle building phase. I like the idea of going through phases. It’s a different kind of mental challenge that makes this journey exciting.

    I also find that after 12-14 weeks of building, the progress slows down a bit… so changing things up should be a good thing for me right now.

    Once again, thanks for the solid advice Jason.

  7. Brandon Cook January 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    JASON, JASON, JASON!!!!!!!!! Bring on the Renegade Diet!

    Bulking and cutting definitely sucks. I experienced exactly as you described. While I’d eat a ton and definitely get bigger… once I cut I was back to about the same weight and going WTF?!?! Can I have ALL my $$$ back from that expensive organic food please. ;)

    Should of sold my feces as high quality fertilizer to make some loot back! LOL

    Right now I just finished a 7 day juice fast to detox, give my system a break and heal some old injuries. Lost 10lbs in a week (prolly a lil muscle too) and am sitting at 6% body fat. Gonna gradually increase the calories and do it right this time.

    Hope Cali is treating you right!

  8. Jack January 23, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    In Muscle Gaining Secrets, you said something about how a good approach for a hardgainer might be to just eat everything in sight, not worry about the nutritional profile too much, reset your metabolism, and worry about working off the excess fat later. Is this another one of those old theories you’ve thrown out as you’ve evolved, or are hardgainers an exception?

    • Jason Ferruggia January 24, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

      Extremely skinny maggot hardgainers sometimes have to play by different rules but they shouldn’t get too much above 15% body-fat. They may need to eat 5,000 calories and some of it from junk but the same rules apply.

  9. Michael M January 23, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    Great post. It is a good reminder. I am lucky that when I first started training I was told not to Bulk and Cut. I have tried a lot of different styles of eating/diets. The Warrior Diet is definitely the one that works best for me and my lifestyle. I am however interested in what the RD will be like.

  10. Jason January 23, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    Great post. I think what gets most guys stuck in this bulking thing is all the programs and reports that claim to add 41lbs of muscle in 24 week. Glad you set the record straight.

    Building muscle takes time, and getting fat doesn’t help. Plus you build muscle to look good, who wants to look like a slob?

  11. JORGE BONILLA January 23, 2012 at 9:02 pm #


  12. Till January 24, 2012 at 2:44 am #

    I guess I’m different ^^ at 155lbs, I can easily eat 3000+ cals/day without gaining weight fast. Back when I started, I went from a lean 135 to 145 at 13% bf – by pigging out for two months. I find it impossible to even get CLOSE to 15% without fast food, and since I like veggies and organic stuff… Let’s say I won’t join the fatty division anytime soon.

    • Jason Ferruggia January 24, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

      Then you should be eating 4,000 calories per day. The same rules apply. The point is to eat as much as you need to in order to build muscle but don’t become an obese mess in the process. You’re kind of on the right path except that you need to eat MORE.

  13. Eugene January 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Hey Jay
    How is the Renegade Diet going to be different from other kinda similar diets like Carb Backloading or The Modified Warrior Diet?

    And can it be used for leaning down as well as for building muscle?

  14. David - The Natural Health Service January 26, 2012 at 7:45 am #

    I got caught in the bulking trap a long time ago and just got fat. Did not put on much muscle at all. I’m determined to get lean now so I can gain some weight as muscle instead. I learned about this a few months back from another post on your site, but it sometimes takes a while to really sink in doesn’t it?

  15. Gavin Allinson February 4, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Great post couldn’t agree more.

    Most people probably cant afford more than the basic half dozen supplements, so stop looking for the magic bullets.

  16. Matt February 8, 2012 at 3:27 am #

    Hey Jason, what do you think about doing shorter bulk/cut cycles, like Layne Norton has mentioned? For example 4-6 week bulk followed by a 2 week cut?

    Seems like a good long term approach to gaining some muscle without doing the perma-bulk and getting too fat

  17. Cass February 13, 2012 at 7:11 am #


    This article is awesome! Loved it, and it fit right in with where I am now – focusing on losing that last bit of fat before commiting to a slow and steady muscle-gaining phase.

    Quick question – you note that you do not need to consume 5,000 cals to gain muscle if your Maintenance numbers are 2600 and that makes total sense. In your experience, though, and more specifically for a woman, how many cal’s above maintenance is a good starting point, before you have the luxury of measurements and progress to use as a guide?

    Thanks – keep the great articles coming!!!

  18. Steve February 16, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    I totally agree with this article. I’ve been telling people for a long time that bulking and cutting just isn’t neccessary.

    I’ve got my diet nailed down but I think I may invinest your RN when it’s ready.

    You can never know everything, I know you don’t sell rubbish and if I get one thing I can use out of it – it will be worth it.

    The learners will inherit the earth…..

  19. Chad Aharon April 18, 2012 at 8:34 am #


    A few questions

    1. Is the diet Paleo friendly?

    2. If I am around 157 pounds at 6ft is this diet for me? I want to get lean with a 6 pack not too bulky


  20. John Watkins April 17, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

    Currently, I’m putting your carb-timing principles to work (eating at night etc). However, I work out at lunch-time, and so I’m in doubt whether I should have post-workout carbs AND eat carbs at night?
    I’m trying to get really lean and doing the 4 no-carb days with a re-feed day. My guess would be carbs only at night while cutting, but then re-introducing them post-workout as well, once I get leaner and I’m looking to gain.

    What’s the smartest way to go about it?

    Bio profile:
    182 lbs
    12-13% body fat

  21. Jonathan September 6, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    For a newbie to weight training, this is a very good viewpoint on “the other side” of the bulking/cutting argument. Is it considered “over eating” if during the bulking stage you are eating 15% more than your calculated CIM? I started a weight training program at 151 lbs. & 12%BF. It calculated out to 2,327 calories to maintain, and am currently eating around 2,700 calories (healthy foods), with a 25/50/25 protein/starch(carb)/fat portion ratio. My goal over this 12-week program is to gain 10 lbs. of muscle.

  22. Kevin November 14, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    Here’s a good calculator site to help decide and calculate your macros BULKvsCUT.com