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Bulking and Cutting: Ways To Get More Muscle Definition

If you are a fitness enthusiast, you have probably heard of bulking and cutting. But what do the terms mean, and how to go about it? We talked to a body transformation specialist to help break it down for you.

By Sahajiya Halder
26 Dec 2021

Different people have different fitness journeys and individual fitness goals. If you are looking to build your body up, then you might have heard of the terms "bulking" and "cutting". Bulking and cutting are phases through which individuals aim to gain muscle mass and cut down body fat in order to enhance muscle definition by regulating the amount of calories consumed in comparison with the amount of energy expended. This is usually done in a cyclical manner, as it can be difficult for the body to do both bulking and cutting at the same time—there is a phase of getting bigger via bulking and a phase of cutting, in order to trim and tone, with a period of rest in between, for maintenance.


Bulking versus Cutting

"Bulking is the process of adding on muscle and strength by eating more calories than the body burns, and supplementing this with progressive weight training, so the excess incoming calories are put to good use," says body recomposition and transformation specialist Avinash Mansukhani, founder of Fight The Sunrise (FTS) Fitness.

"The increase in muscle mass is, however, generally accompanied with some increase of fat as well. Cutting is the process of shredding the fat (or excess fat put on during the bulk), without losing muscle. This is done by putting the body through a slight calorie deficit whilst still strength training and adding in some form of cardio (HIIT/steady state)", he continues.


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Tips for Individuals Trying to Bulk and Cut

The first step is to figure out what the individual caloric requirement for your body is to maintain itself. Take the help of a professional, or use online calorie calculators to get the value.


Doing the bulking and cutting cycle in a way that is sustainable for the body is key, so the best way to go about this is to pace yourself and use small increments or decrements, and avoid being extreme. According to a review article published in the journal Sports, for bulking, a hyper-energetic diet of 10 to 20 percent calorie excess should be consumed with a target weight gain of 0.25 to 0.5 percent of bodyweight per week for novice and intermediate bodybuilders. Says Mansukhani, "When it comes to bulking, make sure your surplus is between 300 to 500 calories excess a day, and make sure the surplus comes from clean eating, and not junk eating (known as dirty bulk)."


A balanced diet involves a good ratio of the three macronutrients, and adequate micronutrients. Eating a sufficient amount of carbohydrates is important, along with enough protein and a moderate amount of healthy fat. An article published in the journal Sports Medicine suggests that the composition of diets for bodybuilders should be 55 to 60 percent carbohydrate, 25 to 30 percent protein and 15 to 20 percent fat, for both the off-season and pre-contest phases.


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"When it comes to cutting, similarly, be in a 300 to 400 calories deficit a day, and don't compromise on protein. Cut a little of your meals and add some extra cardio to get this slight deficit. Another tip is to make sure you go through a maintenance phase between your cut and bulk cycles, so that the body can adapt to its new state, and your metabolism stabilises'', Mansukhani adds. An article in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition says that for cutting, caloric intake should be set at a level that results in body weight losses of approximately 0.5 to 1 percent per week to maximise muscle retention.


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The Potential Downsides of Bulking and Cutting

It is, thus, prudent to know what your body needs, and its limitations. Nothing is good in excess, and going overboard with either cutting or bulking, or staying in the phases for too long, can lead to some cons. Extreme or long bulk phases can include excess fat gain, decrease in athletic ability, decrease in insulin sensitivity, sluggish feeling, and so on.


Cons of long or extreme cuts can involve muscle loss, disruptive sleep, hormonal imbalances, loss of sex drive, and decrease in bone density.


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