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Bulking or cutting: How to decide which is right for you

Bulking or cutting: How to decide which is right for you

Deciding between bulking and cutting can be challenging regarding strength training and muscle building. As you strive to achieve your ideal body composition, it's important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of each approach. This article aims to guide you in making the right choice for your body and goals.

Understanding your body and goals

Understanding your body composition

Understanding your body composition is essential before deciding whether to bulk or cut. Your starting point and intended goals will become more apparent to you as a result. Your body composition is your body's fat and muscle ratio.

A DEXA scan is the most precise method of calculating your body composition. If this isn't possible, you can still use other ways, such as skinfold calipers, bioelectrical impedance, and waist-to-hip measurements.

Comparison of body composition, measurement methods
MethodAccuracyCostEquipment needed
DEXA scanHigh$$Specialist equipment
Skinfold calipersModerate$Calipers, Tape measure
Bioelectrical impedanceLow$Scale, body fat monitor
Waist-to-hip measurementsLowFreeTape measure

You'll be able to set attainable and practical goals once you understand your body composition. Cutting can be your right choice, for example, if your body fat percentage is high. Bulking, however, can be the best option if you have a low body fat percentage.

The first step in any successful fitness journey is to understand your starting point. Knowing your body composition will help you set achievable goals and track your progress.
Rachel Bell (Personal Trainer)

Setting achievable goals

Setting achievable goals is essential for your success, whether you're bulking or cutting. Without defined, quantifiable goals, losing focus and deviating from your intended course is easy. Here are some tips for setting achievable goals:

  • Set goals that are precise and measurable: Try saying something like, "I want to increase my deadlift by 20 pounds in the next six months," instead of, "I want to get stronger."
  • Set realistic goals: You can't expect to lose 20 pounds in a week or increase your deadlift by 20 pounds overnight.
  • Make your goals time-bound: As a way to hold yourself accountable, set a deadline for yourself.

Additionally, keep in mind that your goals should be in line with your entire plan. If your goal is to increase your deadlift, but you're in the middle of a cutting phase, you may need to reevaluate your strategy and change your goal.

How to set achievable goals
Increase deadlift20 lbs6 months
Lose body fat10%12 weeks
Gain muscle10 lbs6 months

Consider your long-term goals as well as your short-term objectives while establishing your goals. Long-term goals may be more challenging to achieve than short-term goals since they can be smaller and easier to handle. Combining the two can assist you in maintaining motivation and observing progress over time.

Remember that it's normal to modify your goals as you go. Set a new goal that aligns with your overall plan if you discover that an earlier goal is no longer relevant or reachable. The most crucial thing is maintaining dedication and focusing on your journey.

Measuring your progress

Finding out if you are on the correct path to achieving your goals requires measuring your progress. While there are several ways to monitor your progress, the most popular one is to check your weight and body fat percentage.

For the most accurate results, weigh yourself at the same time every day.

How much fat you have in relation to muscle can be determined by looking at your body fat percentage. For most people, the optimal body fat percentage ranges from10 to 20 percent for men and 20 to 30 percent for women. You can determine your body fat percentage with a skin fold caliper or a body fat scale.

Recommended body fat percentages for different body types
Body typeRecommended body fat percentage
Athletes5-10% for men, 15-20% for women
Fitness enthusiasts10-15% for men, 20-25% for women
Average Joe15-25% for men, 25-35% for women
The progress you make in the gym is the best indicator of the progress you are making.
Jim Stoppani (Personal Trainer and Nutritionist)

It's crucial to remember that growth is not always linear and can occasionally slow down or plateau. Remember that slow and steady progress is better than no progress at all. Celebrate little accomplishments and continue to work toward your goal.


What is bulking

The process of gaining weight and muscle mass is known as bulking in the fitness and bodybuilding communities. When bulking, you are consuming more calories than your body burns. This calorie surplus supplies the nutrition and energy required for muscle growth.

There will be some fat gain along with muscle gain when bulking. It's crucial to remember that. This is because the body stores extra calories as fat when there is a calorie surplus. But by concentrating on unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods and keeping an eye on body fat percentages, the goal is to limit the amount of fat gained.

Being patient and keeping a long-term perspective is essential for bulking. Building muscle takes time, and it can take several months to a year or longer to start noticing results.

Building muscle is like climbing a mountain, it takes time and consistency.
Arnold Schwarzenegger

It’s also essential to have a solid workout plan in place. If you want to gain muscle, resistance training is crucial. You will get the most out of your bulk if you combine resistance exercise with good nutrition. With the plan generator of the Alpha Progression app, you get a personalized workout plan designed for the best possible muscular growth.

Aim to increase your daily caloric intake by 200–500 calories during bulking. This will supply the required energy for muscle growth while minimizing fat gain.

The benefits of bulking

Bulking is frequently regarded as one of the best methods for increasing muscle mass and strength.

The benefits of bulking
Increases muscle massBulking allows you to consume more calories than you burn, which provides the energy you need to build more muscle.
Improves strengthBy building more muscle, you also increase your strength and ability to lift heavier weights.
Boosts testosterone levelsBulking can also lead to an increase in testosterone levels, which is a key hormone for building muscle.
Enhances metabolismConsuming more calories can increase your metabolism, making it easier to maintain your muscle mass and strength over time.

Make sure to eat a balanced diet high in protein, complex carbs, and good fats while bulking. Your body will receive the nutrients it needs to grow and repair muscle.

The goal of bulking is to gain as much muscle and strength as possible, while minimizing fat gain.
Dr. Michael Mosley (Fitness Expert and Author)

How to bulk effectively

Using a consistent, organized, and targeted strategy is the key to growing muscle while bulking. Here are some tips on how to bulk up successfully:

Start with a caloric surplus.

The secret to a successful bulk is to start with a caloric surplus. You have to consume more calories than you burn. Aim for a surplus of 200–500 calories per day, but watch out for overeating, as this will increase body fat.

Essential nutrients for a bulk:

  1. Protein: To fuel muscular growth, you need protein. Aim for a protein intake of no less than 1 gram per pound of body weight.
  2. Carbohydrates: Carbs give you the energy to power through your workouts, enabling you to lift more weight and complete more repetitions.
  3. Fats: Don't completely avoid fats because they are essential for hormone production and overall health.
Importance of the macronutrients
ProteinFuel for muscle growth
CarbohydratesEnergy for workouts
FatsHormone production and overall health

A balanced diet with all the necessary nutrients for muscle building is crucial. Focus on all macronutrients and not just on one. Also remember to eat your vegetables and other micronutrients, essential sources of vitamins and minerals for good health.

The science of cutting

What is cutting

Cutting is the process of reducing body fat while preserving as much muscle mass as possible. This is frequently done to get in shape for a competition, develop a more defined physique, or get healthier.

Cutting involves reducing caloric intake and, sometimes, increasing cardiovascular exercise.

Remember that if you cut too quickly, your body will use your muscle as energy instead of fat, which might lead to muscle loss.

Cutting is a slow process that requires discipline and consistency in diet and training. The key is to create a calorie deficit while preserving muscle mass.
Dr. Layne Norton (Nutrition Expert)

The benefits of cutting

Cutting is crucial when a person has reached their ideal muscle mass and wants to get a leaner, more defined body. It has a lot of advantages for your performance, appearance, and health. Let's examine a few of the main benefits.

Key benefits of cutting
Muscle definitionBy cutting, you can display the muscular definition you've developed during the bulking process.
Improved healthGetting rid of excess body fat can lower your risk of developing various illnesses, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Enhanced athletic performanceCutting can boost your sports performance by lowering body fat and promoting higher mobility and agility.
The goal of cutting is to maintain muscle mass while reducing body fat. The result is a lean, defined physique that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional.
Michael Lockett (Certified Personal Trainer)

How to cut efficiently

In terms of cutting, efficiency is crucial. While bulking is more about simply eating more, cutting is a planned procedure that needs a good plan and strict dedication to it. To achieve your goals, an understanding of the basics of how to cut efficiently is essential. Here are some tips to get you going:

Start with a caloric deficit: You have to eat fewer calories than your body burns. A good starting point is to consume 500 calories less than you did when maintaining your body weight. Use a food diary or a mobile app, or speak with a trained dietitian to keep track of your caloric consumption.

Focus on lean protein sources: Lean protein sources, such as chicken, fish, and lean beef, are great for cutting. Protein is necessary for maintaining muscle mass.You should at least consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day.

Consume various fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are great for losing weight since they are nutrient-dense, low in calories, and high in fiber. You should at least consume five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Limit processed foods and sugary drinks: Because they are high in calories and lacking in nutrients, processed foods, and sugary drinks are not the best options for weight loss. Concentrate on eating whole, unprocessed foods and stay hydrated by drinking lots of water.

Maintain consistency: Consistent effort and focusing on healthy eating habits are necessary for cutting. When you feel like giving in to temptation, resist the urge and stick to your goal.

Successful cutting requires consistency and discipline, but the rewards are well worth it.
Dr. John Berardi (Renowned Nutrition and Strength Training Expert)

By following these tips, you can reach your cutting goals and benefit from a leaner, healthier physique.

Choosing the right path

When to cut and when to bulk

Timing is just as essential as the choice itself when determining whether to cut or bulk. The best time to switch between cutting and bulking can differ depending on your current body composition, goals, and training schedule.

Here are a few tips to help you decide when it's the right time to cut or bulk:

Check your body composition: Regularly keeping track of your weight and body fat percentage can assist you in deciding when to cut or bulk. It might be time to cut if you have too much body fat. Conversely, it might be time to start bulking if you lose muscle mass.

Examine your goals: What do you intend to accomplish with your training? Bulking might be the best option to increase your strength and muscle mass. Cutting might be a better choice if your goal is to improve your overall physical appearance and athletic performance.

Take your training into account: Your exercise plan might influence your decision to cut or bulk. It could be vital to cut if you're training for a competition or event to get in the most incredible shape possible. Bulking, however, can be the best option if you are not preparing for a specific event.

Listen to your body: Finally, it's essential to listen to your body and make decisions based on how you feel. It might be time to start bulking up (or at least take a diet break) if you constantly feel exhausted, run-down, or unable to function adequately. On the other side, cutting can be the best option if you feel powerful, energized, and prepared to push yourself to the next level.

The choice to bulk or cut will ultimately depend on a mix of these factors. You may decide whether to start cutting or bulking by considering your body composition, goals, training schedule, and overall well-being.

The pros and cons of each approach

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of cutting and bulking can help you choose the best approach. Both have their benefits and drawbacks.

Pros of bulking:

  • Increased muscle mass: The most apparent benefit of bulking is that it allows you to increase your muscle mass. Heavy weightlifting and a calorie-dense diet are essential to achieve this.
  • More strength: With the added muscle mass comes an increase in strength. This can help you lift heavier weights, which can lead to further muscle growth.
  • Boosts confidence: Your confidence can soar as you notice your body changing and getting stronger. This can keep you motivated and committed to achieving your goals.

Cons of bulking:

  • Increased body fat: Bulking is a fantastic way to add muscle but can also increase body fat. This is because you are gaining weight since you consume more calories than you are burning.
  • Decreased definition: You might notice a loss of definition when your body fat percentage rises. Some people might find it frustrating if their muscles appear less defined due to this.

Pros of cutting:

  • Decreased body fat: Cutting is mainly used to lower body fat. You can lose weight and get leaner by eating fewer calories and moving more.
  • Increased definition: When you cut, you lose weight and expose the muscle that the body fat had previously covered. Your muscles may appear more defined due to an increase in definition.
  • Faster results: Cutting takes less time than bulking. Those who desire changes quickly find this appealing.

Cons of cutting:

  • Decreased muscle mass: Cutting might result in a decrease in muscle mass. This results from your reduced caloric intake, which might cause muscle catabolism.
  • More challenging: Cutting can be more difficult than bulking since maintaining a low-calorie diet takes more self-control and willpower.
  • Increased hunger: Because you are eating fewer calories when you are cutting, you could feel more hungry. Maintaining your diet and fitness routine may be difficult as a result.

The skinny fat dilemma

People who have a low body fat percentage but lack muscle definition frequently struggle with the "skinny fat dilemma." Many individuals mistakenly think that being skinny corresponds to being fit, but this isn't always the case. The stomach, hips, and thighs are the most common places for people with a skinny fat body type to store fat instead of their muscles.

People who appear thin but have a high body fat percentage and low muscle mass are referred to as "skinny fat." This might happen due to a diet that prioritizes calorie restriction but downplays the value of gaining muscle. The difficulty with being skinny fat is that, despite their appearance as thin people, they are unhealthy and are more likely to experience problems, including high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease.

Instead of just cutting calories, it's crucial to concentrate on increasing muscle and lowering body fat to prevent becoming skinny fat.

So what is the solution to the skinny fat dilemma? The key is to develop a balanced strategy incorporating bulking and cutting cycles. You can get a lean, toned physique by alternately using these two methods to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat.

Here’s how it works:

To start, bulk for a while to gain muscle and get bigger all around.

When you have the desired muscle mass, it is time to concentrate on cutting. You will cut calories during this phase and increase cardiovascular exercise to reduce body fat and enhance muscle definition.

To acquire and maintain your target physique, repeat the cycle as needed.

The worst thing you can do is become too obsessed with losing weight. You want to make sure you’re losing fat and not muscle.
Arnold Schwarzenegger

How to plan your journey

Whether cutting or bulking, the secret to success is planning your fitness journey. Make your journey pleasurable and set realistic goals with the help of the following tips.

  • Set achievable goals: Create a plan to reach your goals after deciding what you want to do in a specific time frame. Be reasonable in your expectations, and remember that progress takes time.
  • Track your progress: Measure your weight, calculate your body fat percentage, and take pictures to document your progress. This will encourage you to keep continuing by enabling you to see the progress you have achieved. Tracking your workout progress is also essential. You can use the Alpha Progression app for that.
  • Find a workout buddy: An exercise partner can make the experience more fun and hold you accountable. Schedule your workouts with a friend who has similar goals.
  • Keep a food diary: Keeping a food diary is an excellent way to keep track of your calorie consumption and ensure that you are consuming the nutrients your body needs. Write down your meals, their sizes, and the time of day.
  • Stay flexible: If your plan isn't working for you, don't hesitate to change it. You may need to adjust your diet or your exercise routine. Finding what works best for you is what's most crucial.
The key to success in fitness is to have a plan and stick to it.
Tony Horton

Whether you're bulking or cutting, you'll be well on your way to realizing your goals by paying attention to these tips. Remember that consistency is critical, so follow your strategy and be patient. You will achieve your goals with patience and effort.

The ideal body fat percentage for bulking and cutting

Most experts think the appropriate body fat range for beginning a bulk or cut should be between 10-15% for men and 20-25% for women. This range is ideal as it provides enough energy to build muscle while allowing for visible definition. Once you hit the upper end of the range, start cutting.

It's crucial to remember that everyone's body is unique and that body fat percentages are only guidelines. Therefore, paying attention to your body and monitoring your development is critical to figure out what is most effective for you.

The key to reaching your fitness goals is to understand your body's unique needs and adapt your training and nutrition accordingly.
Dan Roberts (Personal Trainer and Fitness Expert)

How abs come into play

Having abs or not is often a factor when deciding whether to bulk or cut. A cut is typically required to get a defined set of abs. Your body fat percentage will decrease throughout a cut, highlighting your abs. On the other side, bulking often causes a temporary increase in body fat, obscuring abs.

So how do abs factor into whether you should bulk or cut? Here are some tips to assist you in making the best choice:

Start with a bulk if your body fat percentage is low. After that, you might reduce your calories to get visible abs.

Cutting is your best action if your body fat percentage is higher.

You can alternate between bulking and cutting if your abs are clearly defined.

Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym.
Jillian Michaels (Fitness Expert and Trainer)

This indicates that eating habits are crucial for developing a defined set of abs. Your abs will be hidden no matter how much ab exercise you do if your body fat percentage is high.

Think about how your fitness goals relate to your abs while choosing to bulk or cut. Bulking can be your best option to build muscle and improve your overall body composition. Cutting is the way to go if you want to get defined abs and less body fat. Remember that diet is critical for achieving a defined set of abs.


In conclusion, bulking and cutting are two distinct approaches to bodybuilding and fitness. Depending on your goals, body type, and lifestyle, you can choose the best option. Both strategies have advantages and disadvantages, so it's essential to compare them and make your journey accordingly.

You can accomplish your desired results by planning your diet and workouts, knowing your body fat percentage, and having realistic expectations. The most crucial aspects of bulking or cutting are consistency, listening to your body, and always getting professional advice when necessary. You can download the Alpha Progression app to get a personalized workout plan that fits your needs.