Traditional bulking and cutting are by far the most widely used methods to building a bigger physique. The idea became a staple for bodybuilders and that advice has been passed down to newcomers looking to build muscle and get a shredded physique.
However, there’s a lot of new scientific evidence that points to traditional bulking and cutting actually being counterproductive. The studies state that traditional methods of bulking and cutting will actually lead to diminishing muscle gains and increased fat gain over time.
What is Traditional Bulking and Cutting
The idea behind traditional bulking and cutting is that there is a long duration of being on a calorie surplus diet and a calorie deficit diet. Typically, if you’re skinny and trying to bulk up you’d do 6-8 months of bulking, by eating anywhere between 500 to over 2000 calories above your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Once you’re done bulking you’d go on a cut which you’d eat 500 – 1000 calories under your BMR and it would last 4-6 months. A person who is obese would reverse the order and start with a cut and then bulk.
In traditional bulking and cutting, your metabolic adaptation suffers in the long run. When you start a traditional bulk, you’re consuming a significant surplus of calories for a long duration of time. Your body responds to this sudden shift in dieting and strenuous workouts by elevating your cortisol levels (AKA fat storage hormones) and as a result, your metabolism is primed to store fat. Your body will actually want to store fat. Obviously that’s the opposite of what you’d want.
When on a traditional cut, you’ll start to see the fat shred away quickly in the beginning. However, it’ll soon taper off and plateau. Most people tend to respond to this plateau by adding more cardio and going on a much more aggressive calorie deficit diet. This is something I’ve done before and let me tell you, it is rough. You’re going to feel like crap because you’re starving yourself and exposing yourself to high amounts of exercise which depletes your nutrients.
When you push more aggressive dieting, you’ll find it’ll become very hard to meet your protein intake to prevent catabolism. This results in you burning off fat AND muscle which will land you back near where you were before.
Your metabolism isn’t the only thing to suffer on a traditional bulk and cut. Your hormonal response will be counterproductive too. When switching from a long duration of bulking to a long cutting period, you’ll notice the fat will burn off quickly. That’s because your body is used to a calorie surplus diet and high amounts of physical activity. Your body is producing high amounts of leptin, ghrelin, and testosterone; hormones that affect muscle growth and your metabolism. These high amounts of hormones result in an increased metabolism which is why you’re going to see great fat burning results initially.
The problem with your hormones occurs shortly after you start your cut. Your body adapts to the calorie deficit and goes into “survival mode”. This literally means that your body is holding onto your fat storage as much as possible because you’re not giving your body enough macronutrients. That’s when you’ll hit a plateau during cutting. You’ll respond with a more aggressive diet and workout plan. This causes your body to drain nutrients from your muscles and bones along with your fat cells. See the pattern?
So What Can I Do Instead To Build A Shredded Physique?
There’s a more effective approach to building your ideal physique. It’s called cyclical bulking. There’s a growing shift in the bodybuilding community towards this approach and world class bodybuilders like Ben Pakulski swear by this approach.
What is cyclical bulking? Simply put it’s an easier and more sustainable approach to building a ripped and lean physique for the long term. If you want to know more about it and how to do it then check out this article.
The founder of Limitlessly Fit, Bobby started Limitlessly Fit to share his lifelong passion of fitness to help guys build lean and ripped physiques. Bobby is well educated in many fields, holding a Bachelors degree, two Masters degrees, and several certifications. He also has over 10 years of experience and university-based education in fitness and nutrition.