New to training and wondering whether you should lose fat or build muscle first? Well it’s time to solve the Skinny Fat dilemma and find out if you should cut or bulk.
The first place to start when deciding whether to cut or bulk is YOU. Because, if you’re stuck at the point of not knowing whether to cut or bulk then most likely you’re relatively new to training. So it’s important to understand your own circumstances and where you’re at. Because this can really dictate what route you go down. If you’re ‘Skinny Fat’ (we’ll get onto what that means later) then the decision on when to cut or bulk is a common dilemma.
For example, you’ve decided that now’s the time to make a change in terms of your health. And you’re going to make a start by getting in shape. You have a vision of what you want to look like. And you’re trying to figure out what you’ve got to do to get there.
You want to be lean, muscular, maybe you want to have a six pack poking through. So if I could sum up the look you want, it’d probably be along these lines.
You want to look good naked. And you want to turn a few heads when you’re at the beach.
And that’s cool. Feeling good about yourself and how you look is an important element of being happy. So with that vision in mind you’ve hit your first stumbling block.
It’s all too confusing
No doubt you’re already confused about what you should do when you eventually hit the gym. Not to mention what food you should stuff in your face every day. And then to add to that, you’ve come across two weird words. Everyone keeps banging on about bulking and cutting. What the hell are they talking about? And what relevance does this have to getting washboard abs?
Well, you’ll be glad to know you’re in the right place to get all the answers you need.
In this article, I’ve put together the rules that I go by when working with new clients if they’re Skinny Fat. And those rules will provide you with some all important guidelines to get your training on track from the start. And also, if you’ve been training for a while, but that transformation is yet to materialise then this article is going to be worth a read. Because, you may find some little gems of information that could unlock that progress you’ve been searching for.
So here’s what the article is going to cover:
- What the terms cut and bulk actually mean.
- A definition of Skinny Fat and how to know if that’s you.
- How to decide whether to cut or bulk first.
- The 7 rules of bulking.
- The 7 rules of cutting.
Cut or Bulk? What does it actually mean?
Firstly, to know whether you should or cut or bulk, you need to start by deciphering what the words really mean.
Now, I’ll tell you upfront, I’m not the biggest fan of these words. They feel a little be antiquated and like they were designed for the “bro scientists” of this world. And for a lot of people they can be off putting. I mean, what woman wants to “bulk”? I can’t think of many.
And a lot of guys wanting to get in shape don’t want to look like a bodybuilder. So whether it’s cut or bulk the words can alienate you. And that shouldn’t be the case. Because the principle behind them is relevant for everyone.
But in the fitness world they’ve come to be the industry standard terms and you can’t get away from them. So for now we’ll use them, even if it is through gritted teeth.
The Definition of Bulking
Bulking basically means building muscle. Back in the day it kind of meant just eat what the hell you want, train all day, and watch the gains come. Balls to the fact you might turn into a bit of a blimp at the same time. It’s all about bulking season and your efforts to be The Incredible Bulk.
The Definition of Cutting
Cutting is pretty much the reverse of that. And it’s got nothing to do with self-harm. Although, some of the diets people put themselves on might seem like it! Cutting is all about losing body fat. So when you hear someone say they’re cutting, what they actually mean is they’re in the process of losing a bit of body fat.
So, in summary the decision between cut or bulk is a decision between building some muscle (bulking) or losing body fat (cutting).
Simple concepts made confusing. Well done fitness industry, you’ve done it again!
Cut or Bulk? The Skinny Fat dilemma
So now we know what we’re talking about, how do you know which to pick? And this is where the skinny fat dilemma starts.
What is Skinny Fat?
The term Skinny Fat refers to someone that doesn’t look particularly overweight, but they do lack muscle definition. Basically, it’s the Dad Bod scenario. With a t-shirt on you don’t look fat per se. There’s definitely no huge beer belly. And you’re not waddling your way around town like an obese penguin.
But whip that t-shirt off and there’s a bit of a flabby belly, not really any chest muscles to speak of. And arms that look like an anorexic twiglet.
More often than not, your Skinny Fat look hasn’t come from a lack of effort. It’s largely come from incorrect training and nutrition over a number of years.
The 3 reasons why you’re Skinny Fat
The Skinny Fat look often manifests itself because of 3 reasons:
- Pounding cardio for hours and hours.
- A low-protein diet.
- Very low calorie intake.
Why cardio isn’t the route to losing body fat
There’s a popular misconception that cardio is the best way for you to lose body fat. Now, cardio is certainly not all bad for you. In fact, it can be very useful when you use it in the right way.
But the issue comes when you use it to excess. Especially when you’re in a calorie deficit and aiming to lose fat. Because hours and hours of exercise doesn’t automatically lead you to a greater level of fat loss.
Studies show that a high frequency of endurance training can impair your strength and muscle development. So if your goal is to build a leaner and more muscular physique then endless amounts of cardio is not the way to go.
And if you look into the other studies on the subject there’s even more evidence to back this theory up…
The bottom line is that too much cardio can negatively effect the amount of lean muscle you have. And ultimately that’s part of why you have that skinny fat physique.
Why a low-protein diet and very low calorie intake is counter-intuitive to losing fat
If you’re in a calorie deficit, then you will lose weight. That’s a given.
But if you neglect protein intake then you run the risk of losing muscle as well as fat. And if you take your calories super low then that muscle degradation is going to increase. Not to mention the high likelihood of your metabolism slowing down.
And what’s the solution?
Well it’s pretty simple. Keep protein intake high and don’t be excessive with your calorie deficit. And these are two points you’ll find more about in the next section of the article.
So if you read through that this section and think that skinny fat is accurate description of where you’re at right now, then the decision of whether to cut or bulk is pretty important.
Cut or Bulk? The big decision
So now you know what this cut or bulk business is all about, how do you know which to pick?
You know you need to build some muscle, so do you go down that route? Or do you try and shed that belly fat first and then go all Bulk Hogan later?
Well the first place to start is your body fat percentage. And also how you feel about your current body image.
If you’re not that happy with your current body fat percentage, ie it’s too high, then bulking up makes no sense. Because adding muscle will mean that you gain a bit of body fat at the same time. It’s just part of the process. So if you’re already feeling fat and overweight, then bulking is only going to make that worse.
Likewise, if you’re very overweight then losing body fat HAS to be the way forward. Getting down into a healthier body fat range should be of paramount importance. Adding more fat because you want to build muscle is not going to be a great idea for your long-term health.
But if you’ve decided you’re in the Skinny Fat group then you’re in the middle. And that means the decision isn’t quite so clear cut.
Cut or Bulk: The Golden Rule
The golden rule of making the right decision starts with knowing your body fat percentage. And if you don’t know how to calculate your body fat percentage, find out how to do that right here.
And once you’ve figured out your body fat percentage, follow these rules:
You should cut if:
- you’re a man with a body fat above 15%.
- you’re a woman with a body fat above 25%.
You should bulk if:
- you’re a man with a body fat at or below 10%.
- you’re a woman with a body fat at or below 20%.
Cut or Bulk? Why follow the golden rule
There’s several reasons why you should follow the golden rule when deciding whether to cut or bulk. Here’s just a few reasons why the rule works for the majority of people.
1. You’re more likely to feel good about the process
Take a moment to project your thoughts forward for a second. If you’re above 15% body fat now, and decide to bulk, are you going to be happy as that increases? As you start to build muscle and your body fat goes up, you’re probably not going to like how you look in the mirror every morning. And that might sound a fairly trivial point, but it’s practical and real.
Because liking what stares back at you in the mirror every morning can either be very motivating or demotivating. So if you’re piling on the body fat and feeling unhappy about the process, then sticking to your diet is going to be a struggle. And at the end of the day, you don’t want, or need, to put yourself through that.
Ultimately, it’ll be much easier to make progress if you’re happy. And there aren’t many people that are happy getting fat!
2. When you cut you’ll lose less muscle and it’ll be quicker.
In an ideal world losing body fat should be done over the shortest amount of time. And that’s without being reckless about it
If you’re above 15% body fat (25% for a woman) and decide to bulk then eventually you’re going to have quite a bit of fat to lose. And more often than not, this leads people to hit the panic button.
And that means a drastic drop in calories and / or making the whole process last an age.
A significant (and unnecessarily stupid) drop in calories will make you lose weight. But it will also carry a high probability that you’ll lose quite a bit of muscle as well as fat. And in terms of the look you want, that’s not going to be a good idea.
And in addition to that if your body fat is high then by definition, the process of losing that fat will be much longer and protracted, which I guarantee you is no fun. Because spending a long time in a calorie deficit is draining both mentally and physically.
3. When you bulk you’ll gain muscle and won’t look like a heffa.
Just that heading alone should make you want to follow the golden rule.
If you’re starting at a relatively high body fat percentage then getting fatter is going to be detrimental to building muscle. And here’s why.
Studies indicate that the more body fat you have, the more your insulin sensitivity decreases. And this leads to a greater tendency to gain fat. In addition to that, protein synthesis (an important factor in building muscle) is negatively affected.
Further to that, the greater your body fat levels, the lower your testosterone levels will be. And this is crucially important if your goal is to build muscle. Because testosterone plays a pivotal role in the muscle building process.
So, with that in mind you can see why trying to build muscle with a high body fat percentage is not going to get you the physique you want. Your ability to gain muscle will be hindered and you’ll also get fatter than you wanted.
Cut or Bulk? The Final Word
Once you get past the slightly nonsensical terms, deciding whether to cut or bulk is actually pretty straight-forward. All you need to do is figure out your own body fat percentage and then apply the golden rule.
And once you’ve done that, follow the guidelines below so you know when to flip from cut to bulk and vice versa.
- Cut if you’re above 15% body fat (25% for a woman).
- Keep protein intake high at around 0.8 – 1g per lb of body weight.
- Calculate an aggressive (but not reckless calorie deficit). 15-20% should be fine for most people.
- Focus on a good weightlifting routine dominated by compound exercises.
- Use cardio sparingly and only when necessary.
- Ditch the fat burning supplements.
- Stop cutting when you get to 10% body fat and switch to building muscle.
- Bulk if you’re below 10% body fat (20% for a woman).
- Keep protein intake high at around 0.8 – 1g per lb of body weight.
- Calculate a small calorie surplus. 10% increase on maintenance is a good start point.
- Focus on a good weightlifting routine dominated by compound exercises.
- Don’t bother with cardio unless you want to.
- Ditch the BCAAs, testosterone boosters and other supplements.
- Stop bulking when you get to 15-17% body fat (25-27% for a woman) and switch to losing body fat.
And if you follow those guidelines then I guarantee you’ll be well on the way to achieving the body you want. Now it won’t come overnight, so remember to be consistent and patient. Trust the process and you’ll reap the benefits.
And if you need some help getting your nutrition set up correctly for a cut or bulk then scroll down for my free workshop that will give you all the answers you need.
How to set up your diet for a cut or bulk
Ok. So you’ve decided between whether you need to cut or bulk. And now’s the time to get your nutrition plan set up to achieve your goal.
I want to help you get the perfect nutrition plan that gets you to those goals and is full of foods you love. And if that sounds good then I’ve got a free online nutrition workshop you can register for by clicking the image below. In the workshop I’ll walk you through the exact approach I use with all my clients to achieve great results. And it’s also the approach I use to build my own physique.
By the end of the workshop, you’ll have everything you need to achieve some fantastic results. And all without selling your soul to plain chicken and rice for every meal.
So if that sounds good, just click on the image below and register for free.
Happy training and happy eating.
Simon – IPF