If you want to know whether you should “cut” (focus on losing fat) or “bulk” (focus on gaining muscle), then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. If you’re a man with more than 15% body fat or a woman with more than 25% body fat, then you should cut.
  2. If you’re a man with 10% body fat or less or a woman with 20% body fat or less, then you should bulk.
  3. The most reliable way to build your best body ever is to alternate between proper cycles of cutting and bulking.

You probably know what kind of physique you want, but you’re not quite sure how to best get there.

My guess is you want to be lean, strong, and muscular, and you’re struggling to understand the next immediate steps.

Should you “bulk” and focus on gaining muscle as quickly as possible, or should you “cut” and strip some fat and then bulk?

Well, both bulking and cutting have pros and cons.

Bulking adds both lean mass (yay) and body fat (boo), and cutting unveils your abs (hooray) but stunts muscle growth (hiss).

Furthermore, many people discover that they look a lot smaller after a successful cut than they anticipated. Maybe, then, they should just bulk for as long it takes to get the size they want and then go on a long cut to show it off?

Well, this is the dilemma that makes for a fitness purgatory of sorts where you don’t really commit to one strategy or another and thus stagnate in terms of progress.

In this article, you’re going to learn how to avoid this pitfall entirely, and it starts with answering the question on your mind:

Should you cut or bulk?

As you’ll find out, the answer depends mostly on your current body fat percentage.

The long story short is if your body fat percentage is too high, your number-one priority should be getting lean, not gaining muscle, and if it’s relatively low, then you should focus on gaining muscle, not getting even leaner.

And by the end of this article, you’ll understand why. You’ll know when you should cut, when you should bulk, and how to get the best possible results from both.

Let’s jump right in.

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How to Know If You Should Cut

If you’re currently unhappy with your body fat percentage and you really just want to get lean before worrying about adding significant amounts of muscle to your frame, then you want to cut.

There’s no reason to get fatter (which will happen when you bulk properly–more on that soon) just to gain some muscle if that’s not your primary concern at this point. Do what’s going to keep you motivated.

Similarly, if you’re currently very overweight, then you want to cut. This is the healthiest and smartest choice, even if your long-term goal involves gaining a fair amount of muscle.

If you’re in the middle, however–if your body fat is in a normal range and you like the idea of having abs but also want to get bigger–then whether you should cut or bulk is dictated by your body fat percentage.  

Specifically, you should cut if:

  • You’re a man with more than 15% body fat.
  • You’re a woman with more than 25% body fat.

Or, if you prefer a flowchart:

should i bulk or cut

(If you aren’t sure what your current body fat percentage is, then read this article.)

There are several reasons these guidelines work best for most people.

1. You’ll be generally happier with how you look.

Let’s face it: nobody likes feeling fat.

We don’t have to walk around shredded year-round, of course, but hey, at least half of the reason why we stick to meal plans and bust our asses in the gym every day is to look good.

Once you exceed those body fat thresholds (~15% for men and ~25% for women), you’re going to start feeling fat, and this can become demotivating.

The bottom line is it’s much easier to stick to a diet and training regimen when you like what you see in the mirror every day.

By never letting your body fat percentage go too high, you’ll never have to wonder why you’re working so hard to look like that.

2. You’ll lose more fat and less muscle when you cut.

You know the two best ways to lose muscle mass during a cut?

  1. Heavily restrict your calories.
  2. Make it last a long time.

And that’s exactly what many people do when they have a lot of fat to lose–they impatiently starve themselves and have to go for many months due to the sheer amount of fat they need to eliminate.

This can spell disaster for your body composition by burning significant amounts of muscle as well as fat, and the longer you cut, the more you’re going to have to deal with hunger, cravings, and lethargy.

This is why many people have trouble cutting for more than 3 or 4 months before they flame out and lose themselves to guilt-induced bingeing.

If you always keep your body fat at reasonable levels, though, your cuts will always be shorter and more manageable, both physically and psychologically.

3. You’ll gain more muscle and less fat when you bulk.

The fatter you are, the easier it is to get fatter and stay fat. There are several reasons for this.

First, as body fat levels rise, insulin sensitivity drops.

Insulin is a hormone that shuttles nutrients into cells, and as the body becomes resistant to its signals, natural fat burning decreases, the likelihood of weight gain increases, and protein synthesis (a process vital to muscle gain) is hindered.

The bottom line is that the better your body responds to insulin (the more insulin sensitive it is), the better it can do many things, including building muscle and resisting fat gain, which are your two biggest goals goals when bulking.

Second, as you get fatter, testosterone levels drop and estrogen levels rise.

Testosterone is a primary hormonal driver of muscle growth and high levels of estrogen promote fat storage, so the downsides here are clear.

As you can see, when you start a bulk with too much body fat, you’re setting yourself up for a major disappointment: you’ll probably gain too little muscle and too much fat, and then struggle to cut back to where you even started.

All that is why I highly recommend that you cut first if you’re over 15/25% body fat and want to develop an outstanding, muscular physique.

If you’re worried that you’ll feel too small if you were to cut now, I understand. I’ve been there myself. Take heart, though, because if you follow the advice in this article, you’ll eventually gain enough size to look lean and muscular year round.

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How to Cut Fat Without Losing Muscle

how to bulk and cut at the same time

If you’re familiar with my writing, then you’ll know that I’m a proponent of losing fat as fast as possible when cutting (without being stupid, like starving yourself or doing endless amounts of cardio).

My reasoning here is simple: by doing it this way, you can spend as little time cutting as possible (which is nice in and of itself), leaving you as much time for bulking (or maintaining) as possible.

This makes your fitness journey more enjoyable generally and also allows you to reach your goal physique as quickly as possible.

Now, most people talk about wanting to lose “weight,” but this should never be your goal.

The easiest way to lose weight is to just “starve yourself skinny,” which certainly burns fat but also burns muscle, and that’s how you ruin your body composition.

Instead, your goal should be to lose fat and not muscle, and here’s how to do it:

  1. Use an aggressive (but not reckless) calorie deficit.
  2. Eat a high-protein diet.
  3. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  4. Use high-intensity interval training to burn fat faster.
  5. Take fat loss supplements that actually work.

Let’s go over each step.

1. Use an aggressive (but not reckless) calorie deficit.

Studies show that the only way to lose a significant amount of fat is to eat fewer calories (less energy) than you burn.

You see, the reason you’re carrying excess body fat is, over time, you consistently ate more calories than you burned. And the only way to get rid of that excess fat is to do the opposite: eat less than you burn.

When you do this, you’re in a “calorie deficit” because, well, your energy intake is falling short of your body’s needs. It must get that additional energy from somewhere, though, and its go-to is fat stores.

Now, the larger the calorie deficit, the faster the weight loss, but if you make it too large (by eating too little), you’re going to run into various problems related to “starvation dieting.”

We want to avoid that, but we also want to push the envelope as much as we can. That is, we want to be aggressive in our fat loss efforts, but not reckless.

And that’s why I recommend that you set your calorie deficit at 20 to 25% (eat 20 to 25% less calories than you burn every day).

Research shows that this will allow you to lose fat rapidly without losing muscle.

If you follow the rest of the steps in this article, you also shouldn’t run into much in the way of hunger or cravings, either.

Sure, you might feel twinges now and then, but nothing like what most people associate with “dieting.”

Want to learn more about how to calculate how many calories you should eat? Check out this article.

2. Eat a high-protein diet.

When we’re talking body composition, protein is by far the most important macronutrient.

Studies show that eating adequate protein helps you…

The bottom line is high-protein dieting beats low-protein in every way, really, and especially when you’re cutting.

So, what’s the right amount of protein then?

Well, when you’re looking to lose fat, then you should eat about 1 to 1.2 grams per pound of body weight per day.

And if you’re very overweight (25%+ body fat in men and 30%+ in women), then this can be reduced to around 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass per day.

Want to know more about how much protein you should eat? Check out this article.

3. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.

cut or bulk first bodybuilding

There are many ways to train your muscles, and when the goal is gaining size and strength as quickly as possible, nothing beats heavy compound weightlifting.

It’s better than workout machines, “pump” classes, bodyweight exercises, Yoga, Pilates, and everything else you can do to develop your muscles.

What do I mean by “heavy compound” lifting, though?

Well, by “compound,” I mean focusing on compound exercises, which are those that target multiple large muscle groups, such as the squat, bench press, military press, and deadlift.

And by “heavy,” I mean lifting weights that are above 75% of your one-rep max (weights that you can do 12 reps or less with before failing).

The main reason heavy compound weightlifting is so effective is it’s the best way to overload your muscles, which is the primary trigger for muscle growth.

By lifting heavy weights (and progressing to heavier and heavier weights as you get stronger), you create tremendous amounts of tension in your muscles, and this tells them to grow.

I think you can figure out how this benefits you when you’re restricting your calories for fat loss.

In short, it allows you to minimize muscle loss while dieting, or, depending on your circumstances, even gain muscle while you’re losing fat.

Want to know how to build an effective weightlifting routine? Check out this article.

4. Use high-intensity interval training to burn fat faster.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of cardio that involves short, maximum effort sprints, followed by short periods of recovery.

I’m a big fan of HIIT for two reasons:

1. It burns quite a bit more fat in less time than traditional slow steady-state cardio.

In fact, research shows that you can burn as much fat in 25 minutes of HIIT as 60 minutes of incline treadmill walking.

2. It helps preserve muscle better than low-intensity cardio, mainly because you don’t have to do nearly as much to keep the needle moving.

To be specific, just 2 to 4 relatively short (20 to 25-minute) HIIT workouts per week is all you need to significantly boost your fat loss when cutting.

Want to know how to create HIIT workouts that really work? Check out this article.

5. Take fat loss supplements that actually work.

Unfortunately, no amount of weight loss pills and powders are going to give you the body you want.

In fact, most supplements are completely worthless.

But, here’s the good news:

If you know how to drive fat loss with proper eating and exercise, then certain supplements can help speed up the process.

Based on my personal experience training for over 10 years, and working with thousands of people, I’m comfortable saying that a proper weight loss supplementation routine can increase fat loss by about 30 to 50%.

In other words, if you can lose 1 pound of fat per week through training and diet (which you can), then you can lose 1.3 to 1.5 pounds of fat per week by adding the right supplements.

And here are those supplements:

Want to know more about fat loss supplements that actually work? Check out this article.

How to Know If You Should Bulk

First, you should only bulk if you want to maximize muscle gain and you don’t mind gaining some fat.

Yes, some people can gain muscle and lose fat the same time, but unless you’re new to weightlifting, you’re probably not one of them.

Instead, you have to choose one or the other, and as proper bulking revolves around maintaining a slight caloric surplus, it entails gaining some body fat. There’s just no way around it.

So, assuming you meet those criteria, you should bulk if:

  • You’re a man at or below 10% body fat.
  • You’re a woman at or below 20% body fat.

If you’d prefer a visual, here’s that flowchart again:

should i bulk or cut

(If you aren’t sure what your current body fat percentage is, then read this article.)

There are several reasons for these guidelines.

First, as we covered earlier, your body’s muscle-building machinery works best when you’re lean.

Insulin sensitivity remains high, testosterone production remains strong, and estrogen levels remain normal.

Thus, by never allowing yourself to get too fat, you can optimize muscle growth while bulking.

Second, you gain fat slower when you’re lean.

For many of the same reasons that you gain more muscle when you’re lean, you also gain less body fat.

The physiology is rather complex, but what it comes down to is this:

When your insulin sensitivity is higher, your body is primed to store more of your calories as muscle and glycogen, and less as body fat.

Third, the leaner you are when you start bulking, the longer you can effectively bulk for.

If you’re too fat when you start bulking, then you’re going to have to either cut it short or wind up way too fat in the end. Either way, this means less muscle growth than you want.

Start your bulks lean, though, and you’ll be able to stay in a surplus for much longer before having to cut, and this means more time spent gaining quality muscle.

The Bottom Line

By manipulating your calories and macros to stay in the range of 10 to 15%/20 to 25% body fat, you get the best of all worlds:

  1. You get to like how you look.
  2. You get to be healthier.
  3. You get to lose fat and not muscle quickly when you cut.
  4. You get to gain muscle and not fat quickly when you bulk.

How to “Lean Bulk” (Gain Muscle Without Getting Fat)

should i cut or bulk bodybuilding

You may have heard that bulking is unnecessary or even counterproductive.

If you really know what you’re doing, some people say, you can steadily gain muscle without adding even an ounce of body fat, regardless of your circumstances.

On the other hand, others claim the opposite is true–that you have to “eat big to get big,” and even recommend rather extreme diets like the “gallon of milk a day diet” (yeah, that’s a thing).

Well, both of these philosophies have it wrong.

Unless you’re brand new to weightlifting (or have #dedication running through your veins), you can’t effectively gain muscle without gaining some fat, too. That’s just the price you have to pay to get swole. 😉

That said, you don’t have to pile on slabs of body fat just to gain a few pounds of muscle. When you know how to “lean bulk” correctly, you can gain muscle and fat at a 1:1 (or even slightly better) ratio.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Eat slightly more calories than you burn.
  2. Eat a high-protein and high-carb diet.
  3. Don’t cheat/overeat too much.
  4. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  5. Take supplements that actually work.

Let’s look at each of these steps.

1. Eat slightly more calories than you burn.

The biggest mistake people that “can’t gain weight” make is not eating enough calories.

They may think they’re eating a lot of food every day, but when you actually analyze their weekly intake, it’s not all that impressive.

Having worked with hundreds if not thousands of “hardgainers” over the years, I’ve seen this far too many times.

While there has been the occasional guy who was actually eating 4,000+ calories every day and not gaining weight, it’s much more common to see average daily intakes around 2,500 to 3,000, which often isn’t enough for  “high-metabolic” types and/or guys who are very physically active.

Another major mistake that “hardgainers” often make is the opposite of the above: eating way too much.

They assume that if overeating by a little bit is better for gaining muscle, then eating everything in sight is much better.

It’s not.

You can’t force your muscles to grow faster by drowning them in calories, because beyond a certain point, food stops fueling muscle growth and just makes you fatter. This is why a slight calorie surplus of 10 to 15% is just as conducive to muscle growth as a larger surplus of 30% or more.

In other words, all you have to do to optimize muscle growth is eat 10 to 15% more calories than you burn every day (and get your macros right).

This is the point of diminishing returns, where increasing your caloric intake further contributes less and less to muscle building and more and more to fat storage.

This is why you should shy away from “dirty bulking,” as bodybuilders call it, and opt to “lean bulk” instead.

Want to learn how to “lean bulk” the right way? Check out this article.

2. Eat a high-protein and high-carb diet.

You’ve probably heard that a high-protein diet is best for building muscle.

This is true, and that’s why there’s so much talk about protein in bodybuilding circles.

What is “enough,” though?

Well, it’s quite a bit more than most people are used to eating, but still not quite as much as some people claim.

Research shows that eating around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day is ideal for muscle building purposes.

This isn’t news to most fitness folk, though. At this point, there’s little debate on the importance of eating a high-protein diet, but carbs are another story.

Low-carb diets are “the thing” these days, but the hype around them is undeserved because research shows that low-carb dieting doesn’t help you lose fat faster, and most definitely doesn’t help you gain muscle faster, either.

Instead, eating plenty of carbs helps you gain muscle faster in two primary ways:

1. It increases whole-body glycogen levels, which helps improve workout performance and enhances genetic signaling related to muscle growth.

2. It keeps insulin levels generally higher, which lowers the rate of muscle breakdown and creates a more anabolic environment in the body.

This is why multiple studies have shown that high-carb diets are better for gaining muscle and strength than low-carb ones.

So, the bottom line is this:

If you want to gain muscle as quickly as possible, then you want to eat more and not less carbs.

A good starting place is to get 30 to 50% of your total daily calories from carbs.

Want to learn how many carbs you should be eating and why? Check out this article.

3. Don’t overdo it on the overeating.

should i bulk or cut skinny fat

“I’m bulking, bro,” he says, as he sits down to eat a pile of candy and washes it down with a quart of chocolate milk.

For the third time this week.

Don’t be that guy (or gal). Don’t let your lean bulk go “dirty.” It’s easy to loosen the reins when you’re not restricting calories to lose fat, but this is a mistake.

If you want to get the most muscle (and least fat) out of your bulks, you want to regulate your calories and macros just as carefully as when you’re cutting.

The reason for this is obvious: if your baseline diet already has you in a slight caloric surplus, you’re going to gain some fat. If you grossly exceed this baseline, you’re going to gain a lot of fat (and you now know why this is highly undesirable when bulking).

Furthermore, eating too much high-sugar, highly processed, non-nutritious foods can cause other problems. For example…

Extended periods of sloppy, uninhibited eating also can make it especially difficult to change your ways when it finally comes time to face the music and get rid of unwanted body fat.

Here’s the rabid “IIFYMer” that tries to cut every month but simply can’t keep it together for more than a few weeks.

This is why I recommend you follow two simple guidelines when bulking:

1. Get at least 80% of your calories from whole, nutritionally dense foods.

This ensures your body will get everything it needs to stay healthy, while still leaving room for indulgences.

2. “Cheat” the right way.

Don’t ruin your plans with bingeing. Learn how to cheat intelligently instead, and you can successfully incorporate “cheat meals” into your diet without serious repercussions.

Want to learn more about “clean” vs. “dirty” bulking? Check out this article.

4. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.

If you don’t get the first three steps right, what you do in the gym won’t matter very much.

That’s how important proper dieting is.

If you do follow the above steps, though, the right workout program will make a huge difference in how quickly you can gain muscle and strength.

Hands down, the best types of workout programs for natural lifters are those that focus on heavy compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and military press.

It’s true that you can gain strength and muscle in many different ways, but decades of scientific and anecdotal evidence have conclusively proven that this is the most effective approach for increasing whole-body muscularity.

That’s why the strongest people in the gym are also generally the biggest, and if you want to build a great physique, why your primary goal should be increasing whole-body strength.

Want to learn how to create heavy compound weightlifting workouts that work? Check out this article.

5. Take the right supplements.

I saved this for last because it’s the least important.

Unfortunately, no amount of pills and powders are going to make you muscular and lean.

In fact, most supplements for building muscle and losing fat are worthless.

That said, if you know how to drive muscle growth with proper dieting and exercise, certain supplements can accelerate the process.

Here are the ones I use and recommend:

ATLAS Mass Gainer

In an ideal world, we’d get all of our daily calories from carefully prepared, nutritionally balanced meals, and we’d have the time to sit down, slow down, and savor each and every bite.

In the real world, though, we’re usually rushing from one obligation to another and often forget to eat anything, let alone the optimal foods for building muscle, losing fat, and staying healthy.

That’s why meal replacement and “weight gainer” supplements and protein bars and snacks are more popular than ever.

Unfortunately, most contain low-quality protein powders and large amounts of simple sugars and unnecessary junk.

That’s why I created ATLAS.

It’s a delicious “weight gainer” (meal replacement) supplement that provides you with 38 grams of high-quality protein per serving, along with 51 grams of nutritious, food-based carbohydrates, and just 6 grams of natural fats, as well as 26 micronutrients, enzymes, and probiotics that help you feel and perform your best.

ATLAS is also 100% naturally sweetened and flavored as well, and contains no chemical dyes, cheap fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

So, if you want to build muscle and lose fat as quickly as possible and improve the nutritional quality of your diet, then you want to try ATLAS today.

RECHARGE Post-Workout Supplement

recharge creatine supplement

RECHARGE is a 100% natural post-workout supplement that helps you gain muscle and strength faster, and recover better from your workouts.

Once it’s had time to accumulate in your muscles (about a week of use), the first thing you’re going to notice is increased strength and anaerobic endurance, less muscle soreness, and faster post workout muscle recovery.

And the harder you can train in your workouts and the faster you can recover from them, the more muscle and strength you’re going to build over time.

Furthermore, RECHARGE doesn’t need to be cycled, which means it’s safe for long-term use, and its effects don’t diminish over time.

It’s also naturally sweetened and flavored and contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

So, if you want to be able to push harder in the gym, train more frequently, and get more out of your workouts, then you want to try RECHARGE today.

WHEY+ Protein Powder

whey protein supplement

Whey protein powder is a staple in most athletes’ diets for good reason.

It’s digested quickly, it’s absorbed well, it has a fantastic amino acid profile, and it’s easy on the taste buds.

Not all whey proteins are created equal, though.

Whey concentrate protein powder, for example, can be as low as 30% protein by weight, and can also contain a considerable amount of fat and carbs.

And the more fat and carbs you’re drinking, the less you can actually enjoy in your food.

Whey isolate protein powder, on the other hand, is the purest whey protein you can buy. It’s 90%+ protein by weight and has almost no fat or carbs.

Another benefit of whey isolate is it contains no lactose, which means better digestibility and fewer upset stomachs.

Well, WHEY+ is a 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate protein powder made from exceptionally high-quality milk from small dairy farms in Ireland.

It contains no GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk, and it tastes delicious and mixes great.

So, if you want a clean, all-natural, and great tasting whey protein supplement that’s low in calories, carbs, and fat, then you want to try WHEY+ today.

PULSE Pre-Workout

pulse pre-workout

Is your pre-workout simply not working anymore?

Are you sick and tired of pre-workout drinks that make you sick and tired?

Have you had enough of upset stomachs, jitters, nausea, and the dreaded post-workout crash?

Do you wish your pre-workout supplement gave you sustained energy and more focus and motivation to train? Do you wish it gave you noticeably better workouts and helped you hit PRs?

If you’re nodding your head, then you’re going to love PULSE.

It increases energy, improves mood, sharpens mental focus, increases strength and endurance, and reduces fatigue…without unwanted side effects or the dreaded post-workout crash.

It’s also naturally sweetened and flavored and contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

Lastly, it contains no proprietary blends and each serving delivers nearly 20 grams of active ingredients scientifically proven to improve performance.

So, if you want to feel focused, tireless, and powerful in your workouts…and if you want to say goodbye to the pre-workout jitters, upset stomachs, and crashes for good… then you want to try PULSE today.

The Bottom Line on Whether You Should Cut or Bulk

Cutting and bulking properly is the most effective way to gain significant amounts of muscle over time.

Unfortunately, “body recomposition” just doesn’t work once your “newbie gains” have been exhausted. To get the physique you really want, you’re going to have to learn how to cut and bulk, and know when to do which.

So, to recap:

You should cut if…

  • If you’re currently unhappy with your body fat percentage and you really just want to get lean before worrying about gaining significant amounts of muscle.
  • You’re a man with 15+% body fat.
  • You’re a woman with 25+% body fat.

And you should bulk if you want to maximize muscle gain and you don’t mind gaining some fat, and…

  • You’re a man at or below 10% body fat.
  • You’re a woman at or below 20% body fat.

And when you’re cutting, you should maximize fat loss and minimize muscle loss by…

  1. Using an aggressive (but not reckless) calorie deficit.
  2. Eating a high-protein diet.
  3. Doing a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  4. Using high-intensity interval training to burn fat faster.
  5. Taking fat loss supplements that actually work.

And when bulking, you should maximize muscle and minimize fat gain by…

  1. Eating slightly more calories than you burn.
  2. Eating a high-protein and high-carb diet.
  3. Avoiding cheating/overeating too much.
  4. Doing a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  5. Taking supplements that actually work.

If you do all that, then you’ll have no trouble transforming your physique. It may take a bit longer than you want (scratch that, it will, haha), but stick to the plan and you’ll get there.

If you liked this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you like to hang out online! 🙂

What’s your take on cutting or bulking? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!