How To Know If You Should Bulk Or Cut?
I’m going to break this down for you into some simple easy to follow rules:
- Bulking when you are already too fat will decrease your insulin sensitivity, which will in turn negatively affect muscle growth
- The fatter you are, the more prone your body is to packing on and holding even more fat when you gain more weight
- Bulking up too much will lead to ectopic fat storage, which is essentially when you have consumed so many excess calories that your body isn’t just storing fat as adipose tissue, but it is also storing fat in your muscles. This leads to smoother looking muscles and can wreck your look.
- Gaining fat in excessive amounts and then having to lose it all afterwards can lead to metabolic damage and stubborn fat storage
- If you are gaining more muscle than fat pound for pound as the scale goes up, you are likely too fat already and continuing once you get to this point is a recipe for disaster
The Old School Mentality:
When I was growing up in my teens, I was basically led down the school of thought that encouraged excessive eating.
I was convinced that because I was 140 pounds and a bone rack that I was a “hard-gainer,” when the reality was, I was just under eating and not lifting weights.
Adopting the old school mentality for getting huge fast, I ate like my life depended on it.
I didn’t just eat, I literally treated each and every day like it was an eating contest where the more food I could consume without puking would equate to more muscle growth. I started growing fast, and I thought to myself “damn if I can keep up this rate I’ll be 300 in no time.”
Fast-forward 4 months and I’m 190 pounds.
I had gained probably 10-20 pounds of muscle.
But guess what, I had gained about 30 pounds of water and fat!
My face looked like sh*t, and I had a bit of a gut even.
Yes, a bone rack “hard-gainer” went from skin and bones to having a gut in 4 months from bulking too hard.
So, I was forced to undertake an aggressive cut, and strip off about 30 pounds to get back down to a level where I could actually start growing properly again.
Talk about spinning your wheels. I didn’t realize how terrible my strategy was at the time.
Most guys think the heavier they are the better, and they get this tunnel vision on their scale weight, completely disregarding what they actually look like in the mirror.
I literally had people telling me I looked like sh*t, but I didn’t care because I thought I was huge.
They were right, I was wrong.
Basically, once you hit a certain body fat percentage (around 15%) your body starts to become environmentally no longer conducive to productive muscle building.
When I say that I mean that when you bulk up and your body fat level increases, your insulin sensitivity will decrease. Insulin is what is responsible for shuttling nutrients to the muscle for recovery, and it has a direct and major impact on how both your muscle and fat cells utilize amino acids and glucose.
When your insulin sensitivity is high, muscle cells will readily absorb glucose and amino acids when insulin signals them to open.
However, when you have a high level of body fat accrued on your physique, your natural levels of insulin are so much higher that it can have a severe desensitizing effect on muscle cells to insulin’s nutrient shuttling effects.
Compounding the issue, with diminished insulin sensitivity your body will become more and more prone to convert more of the excess calories you intake as body fat, as the muscle cells are no longer absorbing and utilizing the consumed glucose and amino acids efficiently.
In addition, once you get past a certain body fat percentage, you're simply accelerating fat storage process. It gets worse and worse the fatter you are too.
Not only is this unhealthy (I don’t think I need to elaborate on how being fat can lead to cardiovascular issues), it can lead to the creation of new fat cells that make it even harder to diet down once bulking ends.
When you are doing a “dirty bulk” at first all the excess calories, which are converted to glucose get used by the muscle and fat cells for energy usage and storage.
This is why your pumps and muscular fullness is so great the first couple weeks of hardcore bulking (if you do it this way still).
When your glucose levels are constantly high though, you will start to overspill once your glycogen stores are full (which doesn’t take a lot to do).
This over spilling process is essentially calories that you don’t need being stored as fat. Your muscles only need a certain amount of glucose to recover, and when you exceed that amount necessary for muscular recovery and growth, you have entered into the dangerous territory of all excess calories being converted right into stored body fat.
In addition, if you are already too fat and bulk up further than that, you are just making the process you need to complete to diet down more torturous.
If you let yourself get really fat, you are just going to have to kill yourself to diet down.
And if you have to do a hardcore cutting diet with an insane amount of cardio and a severe deficit of calories, you will just damage your metabolism by slowing it down far more than it should, and make yourself insanely prone to fat storage for once you want to try bulking back up again, or even eating at maintenance levels of calories.
So How Do You Know For Sure If You’re Too Fat To Bulk, Or To Continue Bulking?
The decision if you should bulk or cut comes down to knowing your body, using the mirror as a reference point, and assessing your overall results.
You need a calorie surplus to build muscle, there is no doubt about that, and gaining weight with a complete absence of some extra body fat is impossible.
The key is to minimize this, and once you get to a point where you’re too fat, you can diet down again in a quick and very easy way as you won’t let yourself get to a point where your metabolism is sluggish and your body fat is out of control.
Think of it this way, if you are bulking and for every 5 pounds you gain, only 1 of them is muscle, does it make logical sense to continue bulking?
You will probably just lose that muscle when you have to diet down to get rid of that 4 pounds of fluff.
I suggest never letting yourself bulk up past 14-15% body fat.
It’s ok to not have razor sharp abs all year, that would be unrealistic.
But if you notice that your abs have literally almost disappeared entirely, you are probably passing the 15% barrier and need to do a mini-cut back down into the single digit body fat % level.
Once you start getting too fat and losing insulin sensitivity you will not only start looking really soft with a lot less definition, but you will notice your pumps in the gym aren’t nearly as good as they used to be.
Not being able to get a good pump in a calorie surplus is a surefire way to tell that either your diet sucks, or your body isn’t efficiently using the nutrients you are consuming any more and your insulin sensitivity is starting to go down the toilet.
Bulk up to 14-15% (max), mini diet back into the single digits, rinse and repeat.
This will not only keep your results maximized, but it will allow you to actually look good year round.
Take it from me, I’ve done both approaches more times than I can count, and staying lean IS the way to go.