What are you doing now, bro? Are you bulking? Are you cutting? Sure, I would recommend that you have a specific goal and lean towards one or the other based on your goal, but instead of using the terms bulking and cutting – use the term IMPROVING. Because of many metabolic adaptations, hormone imbalances, and generally other imbalances in your body, it is a bad idea to bulk extremely hard – or the opposite – cut like you’re going to audition for The Machinist.
The biggest factor when “bulking”, or going through a phase of a caloric surplus to gain muscle mass/weight, is how much of a surplus is being added to total calories. If you’re burning 3000 calories per day and suddenly increase your intake to 6000 calories per day, expect to gain a good deal of fat as well. Some are comfortable carrying a large amount of fat during the off season – but here’s where this method faults in the long run.
By gaining a high ratio of fat to muscle, that also means when you go to diet this fat off, you will have a higher chance of losing some of that hard-earned muscle, due to the fact that you will have to diet harder and longer. Also, your body responds to the sudden dramatic increase of calories by elevating cortisol levels, which encourages fat-storage. Similarly, spiking insulin dramatically while glycogen stores are already full will force insulin to shuttle excess carbohydrates directly as fat storage.
Similarly to bulking too hard, cutting too hard has a horrendous effect on the metabolism. Because your body doesn’t know that you’re on a cut for aesthetic purposes, or dieting for a bodybuilding competition, it’s going to think you’re starving and your metabolism will slow down if a strategic plan isn’t set in place that allows your metabolism to keep strong. During intense dieting phases, the hormones leptin, ghrelin, and testosterone are dramatically reduced.
Leptin – the primary fat burning hormone, can be spiked by intermittently introducing high carbohydrate, refeed days into a dieting plan. Along with the effects these hormones have on achieving your goal, they will also dramatically lower your dopamine and serotonin levels – essentially your body’s natural reward system, or generally, hormones that make you happy. Keeping these levels as high as possible (which, let’s be honest – a bodybuilding contest preparation phase will have you feeling a little miserable regardless) will make the process much easier.
The correct way to cut and bulk
To keep body fat stores down, as well as keeping the metabolism healthy – and health in general, it is encouraged to go through a slow phase of a SLIGHT caloric surplus (500-1000 calories maximum) to where you’re slowly adding/losing weight. 1-2 lbs per week is a good goal – if not less. Because your metabolism will make adaptations due to having more lean body mass, having more food, etc, you may need to continually increase the calories in order to make progress – but do these changes slowly and monitor your rate of change to understand how much more you need to add (or drop) to continue progressing.
You will notice your highest weight will not be much heavier than contest, or your “dieted” physique, as well as your strength will probably not reach the highest it has ever been, but what matters are the NET results. Basically, how much muscle and strength your physique added since the last time you were lean – or whatever your goal is physique-wise – is what matters. People won’t know how strong or how much muscle you carried during the off season, and it won’t show if these methods aren’t utilized because whatever strength and muscle that was built during a careless bulking phase, will be most likely lost during the dieting phase.