Bulking vs cutting is a debate you’ve likely come across if you want to build muscle. The two workout diets have different effects, but the main aim is to change your body composition.

bulking vs cutting: woman doing resistance training

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bulking vs cutting: woman doing resistance training

Exercise helps us stay fit and healthy, but many people also add muscle-building activities like free weights and deadlifts into their training routine to develop visible muscle, with support from the likes of the best protein powders for women.

If you want to know the difference between bulking and cutting, we have all the information you need along with advice on how to safely do both.

Bodybuilders bulk to gain weight quickly and then cut to reduce their energy intake and start burning fat to get competition-ready. You can use the best protein powders for weight loss to promote muscle development without fat-fuelled weight gain for support through both phases.

For most of us, including strength training beginners, it’s better to focus on a balanced diet for sustainable gains. But if you want to see quick results, we’ll guide you through the critical points of bulking vs cutting.

Bulking vs cutting: what’s the difference?

To bulk and gain weight, you’ll need to eat more calories than you burn in a day. There are several ways to do this, like a dirty bulk or a lean bulk. Cutting means reducing the amount of calories instead.

There are a few distinct styles of bulking, each with different nutritional targets. The main aim is to increase your calorie intake coupled with either weight lifting or High Intensity Resistance Training (HIRT),

This is similar to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) but focuses on muscle-building in place of cardio. You work as hard as possible for the time, taking 20-30-second breaks between exercises.

Your increased energy and protein intake helps power these workouts and promote post-training recovery. The results of one study showed that increasing your calorie intake, coupled with resistance training, leads to increases in overall weight and fat-free gains.

As you’re eating more, you’ll likely consume more carbs, which are turned into sugars for muscle fuel. Although you’re training intensively and building muscle while bulking, part of your weight gain will be from fat. This isn’t a concern for some people, especially if your goal is to get big.

But for visible gains, you’ll need to burn this newly-formed fat. That’s where cutting comes in. By maintaining a calorie deficit, burning more energy than you consume, your body will start to drop fat.

However, you also need to maintain your workout routine during this phase. While cutting, your body burns fat and starts to use protein for energy, decreasing your lean muscle mass. So you need to continue exercising and make sure you’ve got enough protein in your diet. 

According to one meta-analysis, a review of published research, bulking requires between 2.2g and 3.4g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day, which is roughly equivalent to 5-10% of a chicken breast per kilogram of bodyweight.

As you have less energy, you’ll feel more tired and find your workouts more challenging. It’s important to set your calorie deficit relatively low initially to prevent over-exerting yourself or risking injury. As you get more comfortable with the routine, you can gradually increase the deficit.

Before deciding on bulking vs cutting, you should talk to a medical professional and plan carefully. 

Bulking vs cutting: what is dirty bulking?

If your goal is to gain weight, you need to increase your calorie intake. Your workouts will burn energy, but adding extra calories should mean your body has plenty of fuel for training and recovery.

When dirty bulking, no food is off-limits; the only target is to increase energy intake. To build muscle, you’ll need to consume additional protein, but beyond that, you can eat whatever you want.

Of course, not every dirty bulk involves eating as much high-calorie food as you can tolerate. However, the most significant thing to consider with dirty bulking is that a portion of your weight gain will likely be fat in addition to any muscle gains.

Bulking vs cutting: what is lean bulking?

With a lean bulk, the goal is still to gain weight, but in a more controlled manner. You won’t see results quite as fast as with a dirty bulk, but it’s generally considered more sustainable and means you avoid gaining fat.

You’re still aiming for a calorie surplus, but you’ll get there by planning to eat a certain amount of calories above maintenance levels, and most of your food will come from what most people would call healthy meals. 

Essentially, you’ll learn how to eat healthily, but you’ll eat more of these nutritionally-balanced meals than if you were aiming for weight loss. As ever, getting enough protein is key, so it can also help to use one of the best fitness apps to log your food.

Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are the primary macros or macronutrients you need to keep an eye on. The protein helps repair muscles post-workout, carbs break down into sugars to power your training, and fats are essential to many of your body’s processes. 

In a study titled “The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition,” the authors found protein protects against gaining fat when you’re consuming more calories, particularly coupled with resistance training. So, to avoid the bulking vs. cutting debate, if your goal is to gain lean muscle mass, then a lean bulk will be preferable to a dirty bulk. 

Your diet is a core part of any muscle-building activity, but your training is just as important. Once you’ve decided on what you’re going to eat, use this 30-day bulk-up workout plan for sustainable gains that’ll work you hard, but prevent over-training or injury in the long run.