Beginner Question – Should I Bulk or Cut?

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One of the common questions that will always be asked is “should I bulk or should I cut?”

Just do a quick search on the bodybuilding.com forums and you’ll get a mound of results from many young(er) guys promulgating the next step in their fitness journey.

Many beginners, primarily males, will often be exposed to strength training or bodybuilding by a friend, magazine, an old book or whatnot.  Within a few days, an obsession with resembling the models they see in the media beats against their brain incessantly until they can no longer recite their ABC’s.

The reasons are bold and apparent.  Some believe the girls are heartily attracted to large, muscle-bound men as the cover model sports a sexy figure on each side for the cover art.

Another belief is that large muscles, to a degree, equal success as bodybuilders prance around on stage with their trophies and fat checks in the latest Flex mag.

But, the main reason most guys wish to build an incredible physique is not because they think it will win them the girl or because of a belief it will make them successful.  No, it’s primarily due to either:

  • A serious competitive drive they garnered as a result of participating in athletics growing up (and some are just naturally competitive regardless athletics).
  • A deep-seated insecurity with their appearance.

Now regardless of the reasons (there are more – the above are just some common examples), the cycle normally goes something like this.

Typical Downward Spiral

Discover strength training/bodybuilding/fitness.
Start working out haphazardly (hopefully avoiding injury).
Learn about the popular bulking and cutting strategies used in bodybuilding.
Attempt one or the other without much knowledge as to how or why.
Fail.
Try again – spin their wheels
Fail.
Try again – either do a bit better or spin their wheels some more
Get confused
Eat some donuts
Find a new hobby
Keep going until it all works out (very rare).

The truth is that most won’t make it past their initial bulk and cut experiment.  If they do, many may find themselves in a perpetual state of indecision about what to do next.

It’s like they’re asking all these questions but no answers seem to fit.  Or they could possibly fit, but they can’t locate the round peg for their round hole.

It doesn’t make sense – any of it.

While a select few make stellar progress in the face of suboptimal training and nutrient intake, most others fall to the wayside wondering what the secrets are and how much they cost.  This is how millions are made each year – selling secrets that aren’t really secrets at all.

Let’s get started with a question I received last week and I’ll give my opinion and then elaborate fully with my beliefs about bulking and cutting periods and whether or not they are for you.

I have friends who are really skinny, yet don’t have a 6 pack and want one.  They are trying to lose even more fat to get it.  I myself don’t even know if losing fat or building muscle will help me reach my goals, as I don’t really know what I’d look like if I went either way.  Sometimes I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels.

-Albert

Bulking and Cutting Defined + Other Stuff

Briefly, bulking refers to the period, also known as the offseason by competition bodybuilders, in which one trains regularly and consumes more energy (read: food) in hopes of adding slabs of red meat to their skeletal structure.

There are many ways to go about it.  Some make a sloppy attempt at gaining weight – their jaws literally turn into a food funnel and no plate ever goes to the sink with any remains for disposal.  It’s not unheard of for someone to gain 20-30lbs (varies wildly) in the name of growing their muscles over a 16-20 week period.

Then, we have others who practice a more conservative approach – tracking their intake, and timing meals with hopes of gaining 1-2 pounds of muscle per month.

We also encounter the confused teen that, regardless of wondrous intent, believes endless amounts of clean food will lead to 100% pure muscle gains because the carbs are slow-digesting or complex.

Cutting refers to the period of time spend losing weight when the offseason ends.  During this phase of the cycle, one will attempt to shed the excess weight gained as a result of continual force-feeding from the previous months.

Their hope is they’ll soon reveal a newly-chiselled, Greek-like physique.

For many, not all though, this is where the obsessive tendencies begin to surface.  Usually, it will start with an unrealistic goal.  As a result of said unrealism, drastic measures are often taken.  Some people really believe they can shed all the excess fat they gained over 5 months in just 6-8 weeks time with NO muscle loss.

While this is perfectly doable for certain situations (an obese person goes on a PSMF diet – look at Lyle’s Rapid Fat Loss Handbook to see what I mean), it’s highly unrealistic for many.

The diet typically becomes very strict and restricted – which creates many psychological problems in itself.

For the novice trainee, it’s not always a pretty picture because the end result often turns into a big disappointment and they end up exactly where they started.

Someone creates an outlandish goal, only to fail, and fail hard.  They expect to be ready for an event or for summer and realize they were way fatter than estimated and it will likely take longer to reach their idealistic aesthetic state than previously planned.

Ugh.

Bulking and Age

I suppose the next areas we should address are age and experience.

Let’s start with age.

Most underweight teenage boys could actually benefit from a supposed “bulking” period for two reasons.  They’ll get to a healthy weight rather quickly and if they decide to train during said overfeeding occurs, their extremely elevated hormonal system will take care of making sure those extra calories lead to the accrual of new lean body mass.

In fact, it’s not unheard of for guys just getting into weight training to gain 20-25 pounds over a year or so – lots of it being lean body mass.

Yes, Mother Nature is awesome.

As one gets older, we know that a constant surplus of calories will not always have such positive effects, unless of course we sprung from the wildly coveted, elitist gene pool.

If you’re that lucky, stop reading now; go sit on your rump, eat some pie whilst dreaming of squatting and just watch your seems burst with new muscle growth.

What we know here is this: the younger you are, in general, the higher levels of certain hormones like testosterone will be.  Over time, the natural levels will slowly decrease, thus the ability to add new muscle.  It happens.

So, if you’re a young, hormone-enraged male, a steady surplus of calories plus heavy progressive overload is usually okay.  Get strong and big.

Training Age

While I referenced underweight male teens in the above example, there are other confounders.  You see, even though a large surplus (aka bulking) can be beneficial for some, it’s not the magic bullet by any means.  What about those who’ve blasted past the initial weight gain of 15-20 pounds?

Is an all-out bulk the answer for everyone?  Err, umm, probably not.

According to Lyle, and Alan in this article, the rates of muscle gain will come to a halt after the first few years.  To make it easy, Lyle’s model suggests one could potentially gain 30-37 pounds of muscle in their first two years assuming the variables (training, diet, rest and recovery) are optimal.

That’s a lot of lean tissue one could add to their frame in such a short time.

The body will use ingested energy for a few purposes.  Those being to repair and store for later use.

And here’s the downside.

Once recovery needs are met, the excess is stored.  I think we can easily see how as one progresses, less of a surplus is going to be needed.  It only makes sense as one nears their genetic limits – if they don’t require less food overall, they will require less of a surplus when aiming for strength and size increases.

So a general rule is this: as one progresses, large surpluses are no longer needed and will become more detrimental than beneficial if maintaining a certain look is important to you.

Give Me A Formula!

Frankly there are no clear-cut answers and I’m sorry if you were looking for one.

However, there are a few ways to solving this riddle for yourself and I’d like to spur you in the right direction.

Let’s split up the general aesthetic-focused community into three segments.

Rank beginners, Intermediates and advanced trainees.

Beginners – If you’re brand new to weight training and you’d like to gain some muscle mass, there are generally two options I’d recommend.

Utilize a moderate surplus with a heavy focus on making protein requirements.  With this approach, you will know your maintenance intake and aim to eat 400-600 calories over it daily.  Your protein intake should be around 1+ gram per pound of bodyweight and then just fill in the rest with the energy intake of your choice.  Some folks like Alan recommend an intake of .4 – .5 grams per pound of body weight for fat intake.  Others recommend 15-20% of the total caloric intake.

Frankly, I don’t care too much as long as you’re eating enough, getting your protein, essential fatty acids (fish oils) and that the majority of your diet consists of whole foods such as fruit, veggies, dairy, eggs, and meat.

Another plan of attack is to take a more relaxed approach without counting every single calorie.  With most beginners, but not all, a recomp effect will occur in which they’ll burn fat and build some strength and muscle simultaneously.

If you take the second approach, do three things.

  • Ensure adequate protein intake
  • Focus on whole foods, eating well around training
  • Monitor your weight gain or loss and adjust your eating habits to ensure you’re not losing weight.

Intermediates – Oh the joyous place you’re at.  You’re finally past the beginner phase and actually look like you work out but still in search of more muscle and more strength.

The downside is the newbie gains are gone forever.  Gone are the days in which you can stuff your face to your heart’s content without a week’s worth of butt jiggle.

So an all-out bulk of 500+ kcals over maintenance each day is probably not in your best interest.  In fact, I believe a very solid approach here is the target body weight method Daniel Roberts wrote about here.  Upon re-reading an old AARR from January 2009, Alan and Robert share similar ideologies.  I can dig it.

Basically, if you’ve set a reasonable goal of adding 5-10lbs of muscle over the next year, it’s definitely doable according to the model for mass gain I mentioned above in Lyles’ article.

In short it looks like this:

Set a reasonable goal – gain 10 pounds over 10-12 months.
Set calorie intake for what you wish to weigh – If you’re extremely active and you maintain on 18 kcals per pound and you weigh 180 pounds, that’s a maintenance intake of 3240.  If your goal is to weigh 190 pounds at a similar body composition by the year’s end, 190×18 = 3420 kcal.  Now how you divvy this up over your training and rest days is up to you.

I’d personally put more of the calories around my training and eat a little bit less on the off days*.  But that’s a personal preference and no one says you have to do it this way.  Just don’t make drastic swings in your intake.  For instance, don’t consume 5000 kcal on your training days and 1500 on your off days.

I know that seems extreme but it’s been done and in my view, it’s just not practical.

*I always place more calories around training and eat a bit less on off days.  This way, I can take advantage of the partitioning effects a solid workout can yield.  This may also help keep fat gain at bay for those who strive for more leaner gains (see links below).

Advanced Trainees – Now things have come to a screeching halt.  Training is becoming very taxing but you look awesome and everyone stares at you in jealousy.  The traditional bulking and cutting cycles are completely out at this stage of the game unless, of course, you’re taking anabolics.  If that’s the case, then the rules change because your muscular ceiling will only be limited by the amount of drugs you can manage to withstand/afford.

Looking back at the model above, the most muscle one is able to gain in a year is anywhere from 2-3 pounds or slightly more depending on genetics, but for the most part, there’s not much more room for a natural.

Therefore, if muscle gain is the goal here, I’d place my focus on strength first and at maintaining body weight second.  Adding an extra shake or a few extra bites of ice cream on your training days will probably suffice in terms of the small(er) surplus one would need.

Another option is to use intermittent fasting ala Leangains to optimize the accrual of lean body mass whilst maintaining a lean physique.  Take a look at Andreaz in this video.  He is definitely an advanced trainee judging by his strength and level of muscle mass.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re a young beginner and have an explicit goal of building a lot of muscle mass, I would place your focus on ensuring your dietary needs are met and then some.  The gains to be had by a young male who trains sensibly and eats enough are beyond incredible.  Plus, you won’t always have the naturally high levels of testosterone you have now – so it makes sense to take advantage of the naturally elevated hormone levels.

I’d say for most young beginners, it’s perfectly okay to focus on adding weight to their frame in increments of .5-1 pound per week for a good while.  Plenty of food plus weight training will yield very positive effects.

However, a bulk in this sense shouldn’t mean you eat everything in sight, but simply a very well-rounded, wholesome intake that meets and exceeds expenditure.

On another note, if said beginner is fairly overweight, utilizing a maintenance approach with decent pre and post-workout nutrition is a better option to prevent excess fat gain.

One more scenario where I think “bulking” is fairly practical is in the sport of powerlifting.  Most powerlifters aren’t too worried about their aesthetics.  In this sport, the most important objectives are moving the most weight and making weigh-ins for their competitive meets.

If you’re a bit self-conscious about being skinny fat, dieting down to see your abs first is probably not in your best interest.  I’d rather see this person focus on eating well, getting stronger and letting the magical recomp effects of being a newbie have their way with you.

For the beginner who may not be a spring chicken any longer, one might benefit from a less aggressive approach whereas the proposed surplus is smaller (200-300 kcals daily) until they reach intermediate status in which they could utilize a cyclical diet with plenty of nutrients around workouts.

If you’re further along and like to maintain a certain level of leanness year-round, then a consistent dose of excess calories is probably not on the menu for you and are likely be better suited for a long-term cyclical approach in which the diet is optimized for muscle gains whilst keeping body fat in check.  Just remember gains will be much slower than when plenty of calories are available.

How do you feel?  Do you practice the traditional bulk and cut cycles or do you take a more moderate approach?

Comments

  1. Luis says

    I’m a 17 year old male in search of improving my current body composition. As of now, my current height is 5’9” while my current body weight is exactly 150lb. I’m still really confused on whether I should be bulking or cutting; I got nutrition down (.8g of protein/lb of lbm and .45g of fat/lb of lbm, the rest of calories come from carbs, eat a well balanced diet to hit micro and macronutrient needs and do IIFYM yada yada yada…) however I’m not sure if I should focus on gaining size first or losing fat seeing that my body fat percentage is probably around 18% give or take. My belly looks huge when you look at me from the side view it sucks! I guess you could say I fit the description of your typical skinny fat dude. I have a pudgy belly and also store fat around my thighs, would it be wise to lose 10lb first before bulking? Or should I just get straight to business and bulk for a long period of time? Thanks

  2. John says

    What do you think about my approach?

    I’m 22 years-old, 5 ft 11, 158 pounds and 22% body fat. I focus on losing weight and burn lots of fat first, aiming at 17% BF and 141 pounds in 3 months. Strenght training 3x and cardio 2x a week. Along with that, I’ve got a new diet with the help of a nutrionist based mostly on protein (lean meats), lots of veggies and good fats.

    • says

      at that height/weight, you should focus on more strength/hypertrophy training, and let the fat loss happen naturally, without going into an extreme deficit. just my opinion.

  3. Cameron says

    Hey, I’m 6’3″ 185-190lbs (Varies a lot) and at about 9-10% body fat. I’m 17 and my end goal really is to achieve the fitness model look, i.e Gregg Plitt. Would the whole bulking and cutting cycle be beneficial to me, or should I look to ‘clean bulk’ and then cut when I have the mass I desire. Any help appreciated.

  4. Christian says

    Hi there!

    I’m 18 years old, 195-200 pounds, 6’3 and about 22% body fat. I’m big-boned so my arms looks sorta big but they’re very flabby and I have almost no muscle. My thighs are big too, I have fat there. I have no idea what to do first. I have a big stomach, like this:

    http://www.inspirationalfitness.co.uk/page3.htm (pics on right). Actually mine is a bit bigger than his. I also have manboobs. What should I do? Bulk because I’ll never have hormones like this again? Or cut because I need to get rid of the fat?

    Thank you for helping a complete newbie!

    • says

      I can’t really give much advice without knowing more about you. if you’re worried about fat gain, then I think focusing on fat loss first may be ideal. I’d focus on lifting weights, and eating better for starters.

  5. Kelly says

    I’m 37yrs old, 6 foot tall and weigh 190lbs at 19% body fat. I would like to get bigger but also more ripped as I can’t see my abs at all.I’ve been training for 2 years and the progress has been slow at best. In your opinion should I bulk first or cut? Thanks in advance, Kelly.

    • says

      it’s really up to you and how fat you’re willing to let yourself get. If you’re really at 19% body fat, and don’t want to spend a TON of time dieting at the end of a bulk, it might be a good idea to diet first. again, it’s your call.

  6. Kelly says

    I’m 37yrs old, 6 foot tall and weigh 190lbs at 19% body fat. I would like to get bigger but also more ripped as I can’t see my abs at all. In your opinion should I bulk first or cut? Thanks in advance, Kelly.

  7. Ranjan says

    Hi,
    I used to weigh 195 pounds in Sept. 2011. Since then I have been running religiously and cutting calories in my diet. As a result I lost 50 pounds in 9 months(May 2012).
    Now my problem is that I have lost a lot of muscle mass and people around me have started saying that I look like I am starving. I want to gain muscle mass but I don’t know how to do that without gaining fat again. And mind you I have been fat my entire life and don’t ever want that again. I have recently joined a gym and am lifting weights for the first time in my life.
    My question is how much and what should I eat to gain mass and not fat? Should I still try for a calorie deficiet or eat more than I burn to bulk for muscle?
    My weight before weight loss was 195 pounds. Waist 38 inches
    Now my weight is 142 pounds and waist 32 inches. I still need to lose fat off my belly as it is still big and flabby and hangs. My height is 5’8″. Again how many calories do I eat every day? How should I work out (weights only or weights and cardio as well)? Do I still try a calorie deficit as I still need to lose my belly fat.And my upper body is very skinny now. I need muscle on my chest, arms and back. Any comments will be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks a ton
    Ranjan

  8. Chanel says

    Hello, I am a 18 yr old female who has been on so many diets and whatnot to try to achieve my body goals. I started out trying to cut fat since I was skinny fat, I have seen some lean days but currently I am, as the article says, back where I started. I’m thinking about starting a bulk or something in August and continue to December. Do you think that is a good idea? Also, I’ve been working out for a little while, but I would still call myself a beginner. In your opinion, what should I do?

  9. adeel says

    hey man.
    im 17, 5’10” tall, and I weigh 157 lbs. ive been working out for almost a year now but i cant seem to decide weather to bulk or cut. if i bulk, going from my regular calories, 2800 ish, and adding 500 cals adds too much fat on me, and when im cutting 500 less cals only makes me weaker and only takes off minimal fat. im at 10 -12 percent body fat and i wonna say im a mesomorph cause i do look pretty big but when i started out i was really skinny all around but my stomach was still kinda chubby, so im probably an ecto, i dont even know. i need some advice. i wonna get bigger but i dont wonna get fat as hell, what can i do to get bigger while staying at the same body fat percentage?
    sorry for the long ass message. thanks.

    • JC Deen says

      don’t do either. just focus on getting strong and eating well. you’re 17 with hormones that will never be this way again – take advantage of them.

  10. Michael says

    Hey man just wanted to say I dig where your coming from with the whole article on being obsessive. I want to get much stronger too. Your pdf was so frigging refreshing and cool to read

  11. Jerry Bruton says

    Interesting article. I would consider myself in the older and advance group. I’m 61 years old and I have been training over 20 years. I compete in ultra masters bodybuilding for men over 60.
    http://gallery.rxmuscle.com/index.php?contest=97&year=94&bodybuilder=6303#4
    I never diet thinking “bulking” or “cutting”. I diet for emphasis on increasing muscle mass or decreasing body fat. The advantage of thinking in the latter terms is I monitor my body composition in the two cases. This enables me to know if my increase in body weight is due to more muscle mass or bodyfat when the goal is additional muscularity. When preparing for a contest it’s information if my weight loss is due to reducing bodyfat or muscle mass. In either case, I can adjust my diet based on information about my body composition.

  12. sean says

    Does your rank as beginner or intermediate only depend on the amount of time you have been lifting? Or is it more dependent on how much muscle you have put on?

    I for one have been lifting for over a year, yet I haven’t put on much mass overall. (Spinning my wheels + overcoming an eating disorder). I would assume I’m still a beginner in that respect as I am very weak and am only 125 lbs at 5 11. It’s not like because I have been “training” for this long I am totally screwed in the long run by not maximizing my gains thus far am I?

    My plan for the moment is to focus on gradual increases in strength and body weight as the drastic swings just didn’t work for me (put on 10-15 pounds a year). Would this allow me to stay in the beginner phase for longer because I’m adding weight slowly?

    Thanks for the help

    • JC says

      Your rank depends on how much lean body mass you’ve accrued. While there is no specific set of numbers, I can assure you at 5’11” and only 125lbs, you’re clearly a beginner.

      I understand the fear of rapid weight gain, however, you’re definitely underweight. I know some active females who are both shorter and heavier than you are currently.

      While I rarely recommend someone shoot for a 1lb/month gain, I think it might be a fair suggestion for someone like yourself simply because of being so light.

      If you stick with a program like Starting Strength, focus on getting as strong as possible and eat enough to gain weight, I think you’ll be really surprised at how far you can go.

      • Sean says

        Thanks for the reply,

        I just started Lyle’s generic bulking routine, and I’m loving it so far. Do you think that is too “advanced” for me or would that work fine?

        • JC says

          I’d rather you train less and focus more on eating. I’d have you on a full-body program over 3 days per week with a focus on linear strength increases. That’s just my opinion though. Take it for what it’s worth.

  13. Jean Paulo says

    Great article as always! Too bad, I started proper strength training later in life and was able to find the right nutrition path the hard way. Anyway, now that I am lean enough to see my abs. I am now consistently training to get stronger and add more mass. A lot of people don’t realize that the key in achieving a nice-looking physique is just like what you said -adherence and long-term patience.
    Keep it up dude!

  14. Jóhann P says

    JC,

    You mention that drastic intake swings are not practical in your opinion.

    Why do you feel this way?

    Also, great article. A must read for many.

    -Jóhann P

    • JC says

      thanks Jóhann

      The reason I feel it’s impractical is because of two things

      1. Some don’t know how to practice moderation and will take it to extremes. ie: 5000 kcals one day and 1000 the next. I believe it would be ideal to even the distribution out for many reasons – satiety being one, partitioning another.

      2. Adherence – If you’re eating a lot for a day or two and then suddenly drop your intake way low, it’s not going to be easy managing the hunger. Is it doable? Sure! I just like to make things as easy as can be if possible!

  15. says

    JC,

    first off, I love how your posts are so meticulously detailed.

    Regarding bulk or cut – my opinion is that everybody should first get to a normal body weight/body composition. What I mean is – if you have love handles or a belly – lose weight first. This is top priority.

    The human “animal” has very nice proportions even when not muscular at all (children with normal body weight for example). I’ve seen too many fat dudes (and I mean fat as in with huge kegs) still in the bulking phase… this is silly :)

    From then on – if you so desire, you can work for a sixpack or whatever.

    Cheers man,

    Yavor

    • JC says

      Good commentary as usual, Yavor.

      I agree, I think it’s important to get to a healthy weight first, then focus on building the body you want.

  16. says

    Very well laid out article and pretty much mimics years of my fitness experience. Fortunately I figured things out and decided to slowly lose fat while preserving muscle mass and will turn my focus to strategically adding 5-10lbs over the next half a year or so.

    • JC says

      Good for you on Dave. While it’s a bitter pill to swallow, knowing there are genetic limitations definitely puts things in perspective.

  17. says

    A classic dilemma for us all, not just beginners. I no longer get ‘analysis paralysis’ on this topic because I have found a number of methods to keep me in a shape that I am happy with (lean, functional, fit enough to enter endurance events but not skin and bone).

    -I like to cycle in the winter from heavy sessions with high calories // fasted workouts to cut. My cycles work on a daily basis normally.

    – I generaly keep active because I like to enjoy my food, and not be carb free 100% of the time. It’s where the endurance side comes in more for me. Running rinses the calories leaving me guilt free. Throw in some weights and I can maitain muscle!.

    Great work JC!

    • JC says

      Thanks Luke! I like to stay active as well – hiking is one of my favorite outdoor activities.

  18. says

    I think one piece you hit on is critical, “set realistic goals.” Most people aren’t genetically gifted, and, most people aren’t taking the same gear as the IFBB pros.

    To look at how they get it done is a little silly, it’s apples and oranges. Like you said, depending on training age, your lean mass gain will slow down. Great post, cheers.

    • JC says

      Thanks for chiming in, Josh. It really is apples and oranges in this case. But then again, who wants to set realistic goals?

  19. says

    Another beaut and thanks for the mention! FWIW my personal approach is to sandwich training with food in an accidental/flexible IF sort of thing – i.e at some point in the day I need to get all my food in, and when that’ll be is dependent on whatever the hell else I’m doing during the day – could be spread or wolfed down in a couple hours.
    As for calorie counting, I’m at the point now where if I’m trying to get bigger, I eat meaty stuff and everything else, and when I’m trying to lean down a touch (I’m never fat, well that’s a lie, I have had a fat Elvis period), I eat more meaty stuff and fewer ‘everything elses’.
    But as a tall naturally lean (well I am when I’m running around doing lots of stuff and not lying down eating all the time – funny how that happens) bloke, my emphasis tends to be on getting stronger and bigger and I need a surplus and a touch of chub to achieve that.

  20. Barry says

    I’m not sure eating more on workout days is always the best approach. I think it depends on when you workout.

    Consider someone who works out in the evening. They lift three days per week. In this scenario, on Wednesday night for instance, it’s been 48 hours since their last workout. Protein synthesis is highest in the first 24 hours after a workout, so the twenty four hours after Monday night’s workout is when the surplus will be ideal. Recovery and protein synthesis will have slowed greatly by Wednesday. For this person I’d suggest a generous post workout meal and placing the higher calorie day on Thursday.

  21. JC says

    @Tim: No, I’m in 100% agreement with your thoughts about sandwiching your workouts with food. And yes, Martin has made it very clear that placing food around training is optimal by far.

  22. Tim says

    JC,

    You made it seem like putting calories around training was simply a preference and not that it has any advantage, but I think Martin Berkhan’s clients show that it’s pretty clear that eating more food around training is beneficial for partitioning. I know there are other confounders since Intermittent Fasting itself may be causing some benefit besides the effect of eating a lot of food around training, but it makes pretty good sense that timing food around a heavy lifting session would provide more recovery and less fat storage. I’m sure you probably agree on this point, but I just wanted to bring it up since, like I said, you made it sound more of a preference issue rather than having any benefit.

    I like to focus on weekly calorie surplus or deficit (depending on the goal) and split it up in a way that provides more calories on training days and less on off days. That way you still gain or lose weight on a weekly basis, but calories are better partitioned to muscle.

    Your thoughts?

  23. JC says

    @Ty: I agree – that’s why I prefer the cyclical/IF approach better, too.

    @Eric: I think, for those unlucky guys, that a cyclical plan of attack would be a better fit.

  24. Eric says

    What about those of us who seem to skip the beginner phase :-p

    Some might think I’m joking but looking back at my starting pics, there is no way I made those newbie gains. I wonder if something more cyclical would help partitioning macros in a more efficient way for those who gain strength and weight but not always a good amount of LBM a la Leangains bulk, UD2, EOD refeeds (which I know little about) or just some basic zig-zagging.

  25. Ty says

    “The body will use ingested energy for a few purposes. Those being to repair and store for later use.

    And here’s the downside.

    Once recovery needs are met, the excess is stored. I think we can easily see how as one progresses, less of a surplus is going to be needed.”

    For me, this pretty much sums up why cycling or IF is so effective. One’s goal is to use the surplus to pack on muscle, then use the down cycle or fast to burn off fat (meaning the excess calories your body didn’t need for repair is burned off after they turn to fat). Unless I missed something, that’s just brilliant.

    • Alex says

      Hi there! I got a little problem as well. I’m 21 years old, 5’10, 160 lbs with 15 percent body fat. I’ve heard people say I should just cut to 11-12. How many pounds do I need to lose to reach 12 percent?

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  1. [...] Here is a good read on bulking and cutting – the whys and the why nots – from JCD Fitness. I’d personally put more of the calories around my training and eat a little bit less on the off days*. But that’s a personal preference and no one says you have to do it this way. Just don’t make drastic swings in your intake. For instance, don’t consume 5000 kcal on your training days and 1500 on your off days. [...]