When to diet.. when to maintain… when to bulk?
All questions that arise in a common space. The issue is though, we have to consider first the individual goals, and expectations.
In general, it’s obvious that the more detailed, and regimented you will be with the variables in every route, the greater the outcome.
This is why as a coach, we always have to make sure client outcomes meet their inputs and expectations.
So let’s break this down.
When should we bulk?
This one is relatively easy to answer. The first question to ask is – what are your goals?
If you want to have an aesthetic, muscular, or as most women would refer to as “toned”, you have to accept a period of enough energy availability to give your body the best chance at growing.
So, when should you do this?
Well, we first want to look at systems and assess if your body is in a spot to do so. If you have ALOT of body fat to lose, we should start there.
If you have a relatively moderate amount of body fat to lose, but are fairly new to weight training, in my opinion, just going into a maintenance phase will be best.
As with you being new to training (Less than 1.5 years), we have a great chance of re-comping (losing body fat, while building muscle).
If you aren’t in an optimal range for muscle growth, there is no point in bulking.
Reduce body fat to a range that will put your body in more of an anabolic environment.
If we start at 10-12% body fat for example, then the majority of the weight gain can be muscle (for men), whereas women should begin somewhere between 18-25%).
However, if we start bulking at 20%+ then the majority of that will probably be fat tissue.
So, if you are in a position to build, from an optimal place physiologically, then lets push!
Let’s expand on the “recomp” side of things some.
When I begin working with a client, one of the most common initial “goals” I receive looks like this:
“I want to shrink my waist and grow my glutes.”
“I want to lose fat around my waist and grow my shoulders.”
“I want to get to 8% body fat and maintain.”
“I want to get bigger and more ripped.”
Clarity: none of these goals even begins to resemble clarity… Not to mention physiological logic.
Is building muscle and losing fat simultaneously impossible? No, it’s possible.
It’s unlikely though and we never set out with that initial intent.
Trust me, I would be driving a Bugatti if I had the recipe to ensure this.
I don’t, nobody does (unless you’re willing to undertake a cocktail of physique enhancing Mexican supplements and put your long-term health in danger).
So, who might this approach actually work for?
I would say there are a few examples which I suggest to a client an intentional “Re-Comp” – which would mean structuring a calorie cycle, close to a maintenance caloric load.
1. The Un-Trained individual – if you have trained for less than 6 months, your body is primed to grow muscle. This alone should be the focus, and a lot of times we’ll see gradual re-comp. So if you’re new to training, and want to see results, make sure you’re eating in a slight surplus, and training hard, and progressive.
You will see results. It will take time (7 months minimum) – but you will see substantial gains.
2. If the individual is “skinny fat”. This is a term tagged for individuals who have little muscle mass, and some excess body fat.
Rather than focusing on a deficit (which is not optimal as there really is not much muscle mass to uncover), we would “GainTain”.
Focusing on cycling calories to put our bodies in a slight deficit, with high-calorie days around certain training cycles to create an anabolic environment suitable for growth.
There are some other examples, but these are two of the biggest cases which this “goal” would actually make sense.