Bulking & Cutting Revisited

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

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.