To bulk or not bulk : a life question that almost every bodybuilder encounters from time to time. The answer to that question lies in the current fat percentage.
FAT PERCENTAGE OF >15%
If you have a fat percentage of more than 15% as a man (more than 25% as a woman), it is wise to cut. This is for a number of reasons.
In the first place, a high fat percentage means that you will have to make a long cut to get muscle definition. And the longer you have to cut, the greater the chance of losing muscle mass.
Secondly, a high fat percentage means that your body is ‘under construction’ for a long time. You gain muscle mass, but it remains hidden under the fat. That can be demotivating.
Third, there is more to life than just bodybuilding: being overweight adversely affects your health and well-being.
The fourth reason is sometimes mentioned that it is more difficult to build muscle mass at higher fat percentages. However, the scientific literature shows conflicting results on this point. In this case, the fat percentage probably doesn’t matter that much.
When cutting, stick to the rules in this article so that you lose fat without losing muscle mass. With a high fat percentage you may even be able to build some muscle mass despite an energy deficit (body recomposition).
FAT PERCENTAGE OF <15%
With a fat percentage that is lower than 15% (for women 25%) it is fine to bulk, as long as you do not let the fat percentage increase too far. Never go higher than 15-20% (in women 25-30%). In addition, your bulk must meet at least two important conditions:
- Use only a small calorie surplus, of 10-15% of the maintenance level. If your maintenance is 2000 kcal, you eat 200-300 kcal extra. If you eat more than that, you take in unnecessary calories, which makes you gain fat.
- Eat enough protein: around 2 grams per kilogram of body weight.
WHEN IN DOUBT
If you are between 10 and 15% fat as a man (20 to 25% as a woman), it is not always obvious to bulk or cut. In particular, people who are ‘skinny fat’ often have doubts about the route to take. Skinny fat means that you have a relatively low fat percentage (for example 12% in men) and yet have little muscle definition.
It probably doesn’t matter whether you bulk first and then cut, or vice versa; it’s more a matter of personal preference. The most important thing is that you stick to the rules when bulking or cutting, such as not too high a calorie surplus when bulking (the 10-15% we mentioned earlier) and not too large a calorie deficit when cutting (20-25% ).
In general, it is about how (un)satisfied you are with your current fat percentage. If you are bothered by your fat layer and the lack of muscle definition, then it is wise to cut.
The exception is beginners: they can easily build muscle and lose fat at the same time, so body recomposition.