The decision to “bulk” or “cut” is often a very difficult one to make. Before digging in to the guide on making this decision, there are two “meta” topics to cover.
First and most importantly, a good rule of thumb to follow is a quote from John Berardi, PhD’s article series “Tailor-Made Nutrition” – “To improve body composition in the long term, you must forget about body composition in the short term.”
You may also want to consider this alternate perspective on the Bulk vs Cut debacle from r/Fitness MVP and competitive strongman MythicalStrength – Don’t Cut Unless You Are Bodybuilding / Don’t Bulk Unless It’s the 1940s.
If the below guide on choosing a bulk vs a cut is not enough for you, and you want to post photos of your body to get input from other people, there are two places you can do that:
– r/Fitness’s weekly Physique Phriday threads
All that out of the way, here’s the nitty gritty. Keep in mind that this advice assumes that whatever your current body composition is, you are not happy with it and want to change.
If You Are Overweight
If you can describe yourself with terms like fat, chubby, pudgy, “a little extra”, and so on, your best option will be to focus on losing weight. You will get the best results in terms of looking better, feeling better, and your overall health. If you start doing resistance training (and you should), you may also be able to add a little bit of muscle during your weight loss (but don’t expect much).
If You Are Underweight
If you can describe yourself with terms like thin, skinny, spooky skeleton, and so on, your focus should be on gaining weight, with the goal of most of it being muscle. The specifics of how much are dependent on your goals. This will require that you eat in a calorie surplus, eat enough protein, and do resistance training.
You should expect to gain some fat during this time, and that’s perfectly okay. Besides that you can always lose the fat later, being too lean can also make you appear smaller, and if your goal is to look big, a modest amount of fat can make a big difference without sacrificing much definition.
If You Are “Skinnyfat”
The term “skinnyfat” is used to describe a person who has low muscle mass and high fat mass. People who fall into this category tend to be the most conflicted about what direction to choose – they fear bulking and getting even fatter, but also fear cutting and getting too skinny.
The option that will almost always give you the best results in your training and your aesthetics up front is going to be to focus on adding weight, with the goal of most of it being muscle. This will require that you eat in a modest calorie surplus, eat enough protein, and do resistance training. Attempting to lose weight should usually be avoided – you likely have too little muscle mass to look good lean, and it will be more difficult for you to make progress in any exercise due to low muscle and the calorie deficit.
Remember that you can always lose the fat later, and remember the quote from above – “To improve body composition in the long term, you must forget about body composition in the short term.”
In general, if you don’t fall into one of the above categories, the decision is more up to you. Some guidelines:
- If you are as big as you want to be, but not as lean, lose weight.
- If you are as lean as you want to be, but not as big, gain weight.
- If you are trying to improve physical performance, avoid cutting weight.