Folks sometimes complain that “bulking and cutting” (overeating to gain muscle & fat, then dieting down for net muscle gain) doesn’t work.
That’s just not true. It’s like saying “squats hurt the knees and bench presses hurt the shoulders.”
No, squats and bench presses DONE POORLY (OR BY THE WRONG PERSON) hurt the knees and shoulders.
In other words, a bulk and cut cycle that’s more like “eat shit with reckless abandon til you blow out your fat pants, then eat like a canary” doesn’t work.
Nor does a bulk & cut cycle performed by someone already overweight, a chronic yo-yo dieter, or someone just not mentally “at ease” with seeing themselves with chipmunk cheeks for a few months.
But provided everything checks out, it’s possible to net more muscle in one year than someone might acquire over 10 years of OCD-inspired lean gaining.
That’s no exaggeration. Because there’s no faster way, natural or assisted, to add a significant amount of muscle in a relatively short period of time than with strategic overfeeding, i.e., with a bulk.
But not only does it have to be right for you, even more importantly, ya gotta do it right. Or at least avoid making these oh-so-typical screw ups below.
1) Don’t eat TOO much.
This is the biggest problem. The idea is to put your body in the best possible position to “win,” meaning recover from intense training and build muscle by providing a steady surplus of nutrients.
However, you can’t force feed muscle. And believing you can is how you get fat and sluggish, fast.
I’m loathe to give calculations or recommendations because everyone is different AND will need to adjust frequently anyway.
Perhaps 500-1,000 calories above maintenance to start; or, just choose the top end of the many age-specific “calories to gain muscle” calculations.
TL; DR if you’re not gaining, eat more. And if you are unsure, eat more.
2) Don’t eat a bunch of junk food.
Let’s all be mature and agree that junk food means high calorie, nutritionally void, overly processed food.
You can certainly eat a bit (it is a bulk after all) but 80% of your diet should be stuff that would also be part of your fat loss diet.
Junk food is not only easy to overeat (see point #1), its often “cosmetically unfriendly,” meaning it can lead to excessive bloat and GI distress. So you look and feel terrible, causing you to make the next mistake.
3) Don’t pull the plug too fast.
Bulk or not, building muscle is a slowwwww process. (Note, thats building muscle, not gaining weight. BIG difference.) You want to give the process time to work. That’s at LEAST 2 months; 4-6 or more is better.
See points #1 and #2 above, as well. If you eat like an ass-hat and then get so chubby you end it after a month, you’ll accomplish next to nothing.
4) Don’t forget to follow the bulk with a significant maintenance period.
This is key. The last thing you want to do after an extended mass phase is immediately hop on a calorie restricted diet.
Yes, you will drop a lot of “fast fat” (i.e., bloat) in a short period of time, but you also risk losing whatever new muscle you were able to gain.
A better move is to pull back closer to maintenance for a while and “settle in,” then evaluate from there. Move to an actual diet phase, or perhaps even hit another bulk?
A lot of context has to be factored into that decision (age, goal, how well the bulk went, health, mental state, etc.) but the big take away is don’t go from Plus-1000 calories a day to Minus-1000 calories a day.
5) Don’t delude yourself into thinking just because it’s a bulk it should be fun & easy.
I firmly believe that gaining GOOD weight is far more complicated than losing fat.
Fat loss starts to suck and always ends in near-suffering. But trying to gain weight presents all sorts of challenges, especially for older folks, or worse, those a little too psychologically attached to seeing their pelvic bones.
Eating just gets OLD.
Feeling full gets old.
Shopping gets old.
Sweating gets old.
Sitting on the porcelain throne, yep, gets old.
But the reward can be dramatic increases in lean mass that look very good when dieted down, especially if you follow the rules above.
Or you can choose to “lean gain” and cruise at 100 calories above maintenance.
So like one extra egg a day. No more than that though.
Don’t wanna get too big.