In order to put on muscle and grow stronger, it’s mandatory that you eat a higher amount of muscle-building foods. The most popular term for this cyclical dieting is “Bulking and Cutting."
Around this time every year, thousands of gym junkies start their winter bulking. Calories increase, and the goal in the gym becomes getting stronger, not leaner. After this five- to six-month cycle of eating everything in sight and hitting new PRs in the gym, your average meathead will start to cut. Calories are severely reduced, cardio is increased, and body fat drops. The eventual goal of all of this is to be bigger, stronger, and leaner than you were a year ago. The only problem is that this system doesn’t work!
Going through a prolonged “bulk” cycle is one of the worst things you can do to achieve the body you want. Bulking is an old-school tactic that was used way back when we thought that in order to put on any large amount of muscle, fat was a mandatory ingredient. With the goal being to put on muscle, you ignore/accept the extra fat gains, with the plan to cut the fat in a strict "cut" down the road.
Cutting can be just as bad. Severe diets can cause problems with your metabolism. Maintaining a strict diet for a long period of time requires an amount of willpower, but these prolonged cuts also have an impact on your hormones, in addition to many other side effects.
As a long story short: this fluctuation from one end of the spectrum to the other is never good.
Here is how an ideal bulk-and-cut would go:
You gain 30-35 lbs during your bulk, and 10 of these pounds are fat. After a few months, you cut back down, maintaining 85-90 percent of the muscle you put on and end up close to putting on 15 lbs of lean muscle in seven or eight months. This ideal situation is rarely what happens in real life.
When bulking, the goal is to gain more muscle than fat. The only problem is that most people gain as much muscle as they do fat during a bulk. Some people even end up gaining more fat than they do muscle.
When going through a bulk phase, you don’t just increase the size of your fat cells (hypertrophy), you actually create a greater number of fat cells (hyperplasia); once a fat cell is formed on your body, it can get smaller but never go away. This means it will always be easier to put on weight in the future and make it harder to get lean.
The better way to go about this is to get to a lean, healthy body size, and gain muscle mass slowly from there. This takes away the complications of the bulking phases and the cutting phases, and often you will end up as big, if not bigger, than you would have been after a bulk-and-cut without the added fat cells, metabolic damage, and hormone fluctuations.
I learned this the hard way a year ago. After spending the entire summer cutting body fat, getting leaner, and liking my body more and more, I decided I wanted to get stronger and “bulk." I went straight from eating chicken breast and veggies to McDonald’s, plates of pasta, and deserts. Before I knew it, my weight shot up from 170 lbs in the summer to 207 lbs by Christmas. I was proud of all the “mass” I put on, but I was delusional in regards to how much body fat this bulk added.
I got stronger. I squatted and benched more. I also lost any appearance of a six-pack, and I started having to buy shirts a size bigger than normal. It wasn’t before I decided to start my next “cut” that I realized what I had done. The only thing that gaining all that weight really did for me was interfering with my next cut. I got stronger at the cost of having to cut longer and being weaker.
Life is learning by trial and error. I learned the hard way that “bulking and cutting” is worthless. Don’t let this happen to you. Ignore the pressure in the gym to start chugging Mass Gainer shakes and chowing down on high carb foods. Stay lean, stay dedicated, and keep growing stronger.