Establishing Your Fitness Goal: How to Easily Determine If You Should Bulk or Cut

how to determine if you should bulk or cut

You're ready to embark on the journey towards a leaner, more muscular and healthier vegan body.

That's great!

Now:

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of vegan macros & nutrition, designing a plant-based meal plan and working out etc, there's one thing you need to make sure you've got figured out.

You need to stop for a second and assess where you're currently at - and where you are heading.

Setting your fitness goal 

setting goal compass

If you want to gain vegan muscle and shred fat in the most effective manner - you first need to establish a primary fitness goal to align your training and nutrition with. 

Don't gloss over this, it's crucially important if you really want to make a meaningful change to your health and fitness.

Here's what the average gym-goer does:

Trains and eats with some vague intentions of gaining a bit of muscle, or perhaps losing a couple pounds with no particular set deadline.

No idea what his or hers macros are, no set workout schedule and no predetermined action plan in order to get fitter.

With this directionless approach you'll end up spinning your wheels for months and years, never really getting anywhere.

The problem here is quite obvious: How are you supposed to reach your body composition goals if you have no clue where you're heading?

Not only beginners, but most people at the gym are stuck in a vicious cycle of fuckaround-itis (shoutout to Martin Berkhan):

Chasing multiple goals at the same time or having no set goals at all, not counting their macros or paying attention to what they eat, switching workout routines every week, dieting for 6 days then bulking for 6 days.

Don't be this person.

For the purposes of improving body composition (bodybuilding) i.e gaining more muscle and dropping body fat, we're looking at two different primary fitness goals. 

Are you bulking or cutting?

scale

Every day your body uses a certain amount of energy, or calories, to fuel vital body functions and other activities you partake in such as working out. 

When consuming just enough calories to meet total energy needs you're at your caloric maintanence - and your weight stays the same.  

If you tip the scale to one side and eat more calories than your body uses, a caloric surplus, you gain weight.

If you tip the scale to the other side, caloric deficit, you will lose weight.

Now:

To get that lean and muscular body that I assume most people are aiming for - two things need to happen.

A. Putting on muscle on your body frame

B. Shredding off the fat and revealing the hard-earned muscle

Accomplishing these two goals are most effectively done by alternating between phases of what is known in gym-speak as bulking or cutting.

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    Bulking: a phase focused on building muscle where you eat above caloric needs. This promotes an optimal anabolic environment to allow for the fastest rate of muscle gain. 
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    Cutting: a phase focused on fat loss where you eat below caloric needs. This makes the body tap into fat storages to meet energy needs which effectively causes fat loss.

The general idea here is to vary between cycles of bulking where you maximize the rate of muscle gains while allowing a small amount of fat gain...

... and dieting where you shred the body fat without losing any muscle you built.

The net result will be more muscle and less fat. Then you simply rinse and repeat until you've achieved your desired physique.

Should you be bulking or cutting?

walrus

Depicted here is what is known as a perma-bulk

The simplest way of determining what is appropriate in your situation is to take a good hard look at the reflection in the mirror. 

Are you currently obese? Cut.

Are you severely underweight with your ribs sticking out? Bulk.

If you're not at either extreme side of the skinny-fat spectrum, there's another and perhaps better way of determining whether to bulk or cut.

First estimate your current body fat percentage. 

There's no need to go measure your body fat using a DEXA scan or calipers. All we need is a ballpark estimate.

If you look at the chart below you should be able to roughly determine your own body fat percentage. Depending on this number there's a couple of options.

For men 

If your body fat is at 15-17% or above start by cutting down until you're at ~10%.

At this point you can begin a bulking phase until you hit a bodyfat of around ~15% again.

Start over the process by cutting. Rinse and repeat.

'So what do I do if I'm currently at 12.428 % bodyfat?'

Well I would still suggest that you start by cutting down to 10% and then bulking, but if you really feel like bulking go ahead.

For women 

Same rules apply but using different numbers. 

From wherever you're starting cut down until you're at  ~19%. 

At this point begin bulking until you hit a bodyfat of approximately 27%. Rinse and repeat.

The unicorn of the fitness world: recomping

girl on horse

Pretty close to a unicorn

'Cant I just work towards both of these goals at the same i.e gain muscle and lose fat?'

It's a very good question and it would certainly make things a lot easier.

This is also known as body recomposition and it can actually work for some people and under certain circumstances.

1. Complete beginners. Someone that have never set a foot in the gym before will reap the benefits of the so-called "newbie-gains" and will gain muscle mass pretty much regardless of what their diet looks like. 

2. Detrained athletes. Individuals that for whatever reason had to take a break (for weeks or months) from training can take advantage of their muscle memory and regain in a caloric deficit.

3. Overweight individuals. The excess body fat provides the calories required to build muscle mass while still losing fat. 

4. Steroids. Because well... steroids. (don't do them)

Now... it's not completely impossible for body recomposition to happen in leaner and more experienced gym-goers and athletes. 

However for the vast majority of people that are past the novice phase, recomping is simply not going to be a viable or time-efficient strategy for putting on muscle and losing fat. 

To build both a lean and powerful physique, cycling through periods of bulking and cutting will result in far superior gains and get you there the quickest.

  • Alex
  • November 28, 2017
Alex
 

Hey there! I’m Alex and I’m obsessed with a vegan diet, strength training and bodybuilding, as well as health and nutrition. When I’m not writing articles on here I am either in the gym, playing electric guitar or cooking vegan food!

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