Great question from a 40-something guy with a very common problem:

“I wanna get a bit bigger, just not too fat in the process.

But whenever I try the cut/bulk cycle, it just seems like I gain and lose the same 10 pounds of fat.

What do I do?”

Here’s the deal: bulking & cutting works REALLY well… if it works for you.

You need to be in a net weekly calorie surplus to gain weight, just as you need to be in a net weekly calorie deficit to lose weight.

But while fat loss is pretty fast, building muscle is a very slow process, even if you take steroids (though that sure speeds it up).

And since there ain’t much mass being built each and every day, you don’t need a lot of extra calories, and eating more than what’s necessary will just lead to fat gain.

Now, you can go too far with the minimizing fat gain thing and keep your caloric surplus too low. This is because while the caloric “cost” of building muscle tissue isn’t that high, it’s also not really that simple, since there are other metabolic processes at work, and those processes also have a cost. Plus, at the end of the day, the full scope of your body’s chemical and biological processes — that is, your metabolism — is more complicated than a mere math equation may suggest.

So, if you try to eat too lean & too carefully, you’ll likely not eat enough and severely handicap your gains.
That’s why most guys just eat a LOT (too much) and they just accept that some fat gain is part of the deal, with the logic being you can simply burn the fat off later.

This is totally fine and works well if:

  • you have a solid training regimen;
  • you have a robust metabolism (young, healthy);
  • you are genetically gifted to build muscle and not genetically tapped;
  • you have excellent insulin sensitivity (lean);
  • you have sufficient testosterone, growth hormone (youth);
  • you don’t “punctuate” what is already a calorie surplus with even more cheat meals and calorie bombs.

If this is NOT you, much of your extra calories will simply be stored as fat, and getting rid of it will be a pain. So does this mean if you don’t check all those boxes you shouldn’t bulk?

Basically. Or, at least do it much “gentler”:

  • eat a very modest surplus;
  • avoid gaining too fast but accept a little fat gain;
  • eat just as clean as you would when dieting.

Then, once you hit your bodyfat cut off (say, you can’t see an outline of your abs) do the opposite: put your body into a GENTLE deficit for a month or so to lose your “fast fat” but do NOT go into an extended or severe diet to get super lean.

The goal isn’t to get ripped, which takes too long and can cause muscle loss, especially new muscle that hasn’t “settled in.” Instead, the goal is just to keep bodyfat in check so you can RESUME gaining.

So, in short:

  • gain slow;
  • gain clean;
  • accept a little fat gain;
  • know when to shift gears.

– Bryan