If you have ever asked yourself the question, how long should you bulk and cut, you’re not alone. Bulking and cutting is something that has been around since the age of time, whether we know it or not.
A bulk is when you exercise and eat at a caloric surplus. In theory, the extra calories that you eat will fuel your muscles. If you do it right, you should build minimal fat, and build maximum muscle.
A cut is when you exercise and eat at a caloric deficit in order to burn fat and maintain muscle. When you eat at a caloric deficit, you are going to lose weight no matter what. The goal here is to lose fat and minimize muscle loss.
We are going to go into depth about bulks and cuts and see how long each phase should be.
Before we get started, I encourage you to download our app All Workouts: Personal Trainer (iOS | Google Play). We have plenty of FREE workout plans to guide you towards any goal of yours.
We know that bulking is when you workout and eat at a caloric surplus. But we first must determine what constitutes a caloric surplus for you.
First, you must learn how to calculate your maintenance calories. Your maintenance calories are the number of calories that your body uses on a daily basis without losing or gaining weight.
Every person has a different number, so finding out what your exact number is can be extremely beneficial to all of your fitness goals. My personal number is 3,100 calories per day just to maintain my current body.
Some people could be 1,200, while some people might be 6,000. This is why it is so important to find out your number. There is no blanket advice for every single person.
I recommend starting at 500 calories per day over maintenance to get a feel for bulking. Anything over 500 calories per day might be too much. That is when you start building fat on top of your muscle.
Eating in my opinion is the most important part of any bulk or cut. But we aren’t going to build any muscle unless we also lift heavy weights. Make sure you have access to a gym. If not, you can check out 15 workouts to build muscle at home with no weights.
Assuming you do have access to a gym, our app will guide you through the proper workouts in order to build some solid size.
Now that you know what to do in a bulk, how long should you bulk and cut? Let’s take a look at our next section for our answers on bulking.
How long should you bulk for?
This may come as no surprise, but how long you bulk is going to be completely dependent on your situation.
Let’s take my situation for example. Coming out of high school, I was 135lbs at 6’1”. If you don’t know, that is super scrawny. I had a low body fat percentage but zero muscle tone. I knew I needed to change.
Once I dialed in my caloric surplus and started working out, my bulk ended up lasting 3 years. I went from 135lbs to 205lbs in that period.
But all bulks must come to an end. After 3 years of bulking, my body fat percentage had gone above 20% for the first time. Of course I had to switch to a cut, which we will discuss in the next section.
What about you? How long should your bulk be? Again, it is all completely dependent on your situation.
What is your body fat percentage? What does your muscle currently look like? Are you underweight? These are all questions that we must ask when determining how long we should bulk for.
I recommend bulking for at least 3 months, but I think a 6 month commitment would be better off.
I see a lot of people that have a problem with bulking because it is difficult to eat as much food as you need to eat. If you can stick with it for 3-6 months, you might find all the hard work is worth it.
One thing that I always stress is that you cannot build muscle while in a caloric deficit. It is simply not going to happen. So consider that when you are bulking and push through the tough times.
Cutting is the opposite of bulking. As we now know, cutting is the intentional act of losing fat while maintaining as much muscle as possible.
This is what makes cutting so difficult. If you restrict your calories too much, you are going to lose muscle mass. If you don’t restrict your calories enough, you are going to just stay where you are.
In the bulking section, we touched on the fact that we absolutely must know our maintenance calorie number. Knowing this number is going to get us through any bulk or cut, so make sure you take the time to calculate that.
During a cut, you are going to want to eat around 500 calories less per day than your maintenance number while still working out hard. I also recommend peppering in some high intensity interval training workouts around 3 days per week to accelerate the fat loss.
Check out our list of 10 HIIT workouts that burn the most calories.
The whole point with cutting is that you need to be right on the edge of calorie restriction and working out hard. When you find your sweet spot, you are going to see the fat fly off, and your muscle reveal itself.
How long should you cut for?
Cutting is just like bulking. Your situation is going to determine how long you should bulk and cut for. If you are obese, your cut is going to have to last significantly longer than someone who is just slightly overweight.
When I hit 205 pounds and I was over 20% body fat, that is when I knew it was time for a cut. Originally, I thought that 3 months was going to be right, but ultimately decided that I needed 6 months to get where I wanted to go.
I ended up dropping 30 pounds in those 6 months and learned a lot of lessons. I restricted my calories too much. I was eating more than 500 calories under my maintenance. It turns out, it was more like 1,000 calories per day under maintenance.
After that, I had to slow bulk back up to where I am now at around 190, which is my ideal weight for my height.
Again, everything might be different for you. You might only need 3 months to get where you need to go. Or maybe 6 months or a year. It’s possible that you are 100 pounds overweight, and you will spend the next 3 years on a cut.
One thing that I want to be absolutely certain that you understand is that you cannot lose belly fat in a caloric surplus. So when you know that you are eating in a caloric deficit, you can continue to make the right decisions for yourself.
Main Point: How long should you bulk and cut?
After writing all of that, I had to ask myself again, how long should you bulk and cut for? The answer is simple. It depends on your current situation. But if I must put a number on it, you should commit to 3-6 months and then re-evaluate after that time.
One of the things that I highly recommend doing is taking “before” pictures of yourself. I made a huge mistake by not taking pictures of myself before I started working out.
Of course I have family pictures and random pictures here and there. But I am talking about taking intentional pictures to show yourself later exactly what you looked like before you started.
During the times when your motivation is low, looking at those pictures are going to motivate you to keep pushing through.
Bulking and cutting is simple to understand. But the commitment and dedication is the hard part.
All you need to do for cutting is eat at a caloric deficit and workout 3-4 days per week. It seems so simple, yet consider that 73.6% of the U.S. population is overweight. Knowing that, you can see that the statistics will tell us otherwise.
The hardest part about bulking is stepping up and eating at a caloric surplus. To me, working out is the easy part. I mentioned that my maintenance calorie number is 3,100 calories. Which means to properly bulk, I need to eat at least 3,600 calories per day, which is not easy.
Coming to the end, I wish you the best of luck with whatever path you choose to take. Just know that you can always choose the other path if you realize that one of them isn’t where you want to go.
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