What are Nutritional Bulking and Fitness Cutting?

If you’ve been into fitness for a while you may have heard these terms before. Nutritional Bulking and Fitness Cutting refer to the manipulation of calorie intake to either promote muscle gain or fat loss. These are typically presented as though they are a “Bodybuilder Thing”, but we mere mortals can benefit from understanding how it all works too! Lets start with the one we’re already familiar with (even if you don’t know it).

Fitness Cutting

Have you ever dieted? Chances are good you said “yes” or possibly “yes and it sucked”, especially if you’re health conscious. It’s also pretty likely that your diet included two things: food control and counting calories. A Fitness Cut is the process of tailoring your caloric load and food choices to best support fat loss, while maintaining muscle mass. You may recognize this as the same goal espoused by every diet plan ever (okay, with some exceptions, like Nutritional Bulking). The basic goal is to create a daily caloric deficit, in which the calories you take in through food are fewer than the calories you put out via living and exercise.

There are Six Basic Rules for Fitness Cutting:

  1. Eat clean, healthy foods
  2. Burn more than you eat (i.e. count those calories)
  3. Cut back on Carbohydrates, while maintaining healthy Fat and Protein intake
  4. Cardio 3-4 times per week, for 30-ish minutes per session
  5. Keep lifting weights to maintain muscle mass
  6. Don’t rush it! Go for a maximum deficit of 500-750 calories per day.

The Fitness Cutting phase is all about getting rid of the fat, but the downside to creating a caloric deficit is that muscle tissue is in danger of being lost as well. Here’s a general overview of how calorie intake and usage works:

Simple Calorie Cycle

Click to zoom

If you are cutting without also doing resistance training, you are cannibalizing the lean mass in your body. That’s bad.

When to Cut: When fat loss is your overarching goal.

Calories per Day: 12-13 times your body weight on exercise days, or 10-11 times your body weight on rest days. For a 150 lbs person that would be about 1,875 calories on rest days and about 1,575 calories on rest days.

Adjustments: If your progress stalls, add a re-feed meal (i.e. cheat meal) to kick your system back into gear. At 15% body fat or higher, add one cheat meal every 4 weeks. At 10-15% body fat add one cheat meal every two weeks. At less than 10% body fat add one cheat meal every 7-10 days.

Nutrition Bulking

On the flip side of the coin we have Bulking. This is a method of promoting muscle growth by eating more calories than are necessary for your daily needs. Muscle takes calories to build, and those calories come from food. The problem with bulking is it becomes very easy to gain fat at the same time as muscle. Overeating or eating crappy food will make this possibility a reality. It is much more common for a competitive lifter or body builder to undergo a Nutrition Bulk than it is for a regular gym goer.

Here are Seven Basic Rules for Nutrition Bulking:

  1. Eat clean, healthy foods
  2. Eat more than you burn (again, count those calories)
  3. Add slow-burning (low Glycemic index) Carbohydrates to regular meals
  4. Add faster burning Carbs to after-workout recovery meals
  5. Cardio 2-3 times per week, for 20-ish minutes per session to maintain cardiovascular health
  6. Lift heavy weights, coming close to your 1 Rep Max during each session for fewer reps
  7. Don’t rush it! Muscle gain is even slower than fat loss; 1 pound of muscle every 2-4 weeks is good progress

When to Bulk: When muscle and strength gain is your overarching goal.

Calories per Day: 15-16 times your body weight each day, or about 2,325 calories for a 150 lbs person.

Adjustments: If you are not gaining strength during your heavy workouts from week to week (even a couple pounds added to your lifts is good) OR if you are losing weight, then you may need to add calories per day. Add 100 calories per day for the next two weeks, and see if you start progressing as intended. If not, add another 100 calories per day and check again. You will hone in on your muscle building calories over a few weeks.