When it comes to building the physique of your dreams, cycling is where it's at. No, I'm not talking about getting on a bike and pedaling until you're blue in the face. I'm referring to the cycle of bulking and cutting. This is a basic guide with some helpful how-tos to getting where you want to go, quickly and more efficiently. While your cardiovascular and weight training styles will change with each phase, this post will primarily focus on bulking and cutting from a nutritional standpoint.
In order for one to put on dense, quality muscles, one must not only train hard, but also increase their daily macronutrient and caloric intake. Essentially, a bulk is a period of time during which you introduce a caloric surplus, with the goal of increasing size, building muscle, and gaining strength. When bulking, it is important to note that an increase in calories does not make your diet a nutritional free-for-all. Instead of incorporating more junk food to increase your numbers, think larger quantities of the same healthy foods that you eat when you are dieting down. An increase in body fat is inevitable when it comes to the weight gain associated with a bulk, but maintaining a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods will keep your body fat in check as you increase your muscle mass.
If bulking is introducing a caloric surplus into your diet, cutting is introducing a caloric deficit. The goal is to decrease overall weight and body fat while increasing muscle definition and tone. In the cutting process, you are decreasing the portion size, overall macronutrient intake, and caloric intake for the day. Once again, it is very important to choose your foods carefully, as the quality of your food can help or hinder your results. Stick with the clean stuff, and you'll get more bang for your caloric and nutritional buck!
When it comes to losing or gaining weight, it is helpful to note that 3500 calories consumed or burned off will yield a pound of weight gain or loss, respectively. Depending on your activity levels (more on that later), and your caloric intake, you can more or less control gains and losses by eating above or below your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories your body burns, based on a number of factors ranging from amount of lean muscle mass, to age, to sex). If you are looking to gain a pound a week, consume an extra 3500 calories for the week (500 extra calories per day), and if you are looking to cut, either reduce 500 calories from your daily intake, or burn those calories through cardio.
When used in a cyclical pattern, the process of bulking and then cutting can offer up a more productive way to achieve your goals. Mainly, the bulk will help you put on some quality size, while the cut will whittle away any fat gained to reveal a leaner, harder, more muscular look for both men and women. Remembering that a pound of muscle takes up way more space than fat, you may find yourself with smaller measurements, despite weighing in at a higher number.
In general, during a bulk you should focus on lifting as hard and as heavy as you can, putting all of those extra calories (which as you know are the body's currency for energy) to good use. In my personal opinion, a lower number of reps at a higher weight is a good training style to increase both strength and muscle size. Cardio is in general a catabolic (muscle-degenerating) activity, and as such should be kept to a minimum. During the bulk, you should just do enough cardio to keep your heart happy and healthy.
In cutting, cardio should once again become a staple in your routine, while your weight training style can alter slightly to include more reps at a lower weight (moving quickly to get the heart rate up and burn some extra calories), and supersets (which always get the heart rate revved up).
To get yourself on the path to a clean bulk, aim to increase your macronutrient intake to equal roughly 250-500 extra calories (depending on the rate at which you want to gain weight), daily. Be sure to keep the foods as clean as possible, and to be diligent in your strength training. Keep bulking until you get to a maximum weight that you are comfortable with (I typically will bulk for about 3 months at a time), and be sure to monitor/log both diet and training.
When it's time to cut, begin slowly - start by cutting 250 calories from your daily food intake, and increase the deficit when you plateau. Also, begin incorporating HIIT (high intensity interval training) and LISS (low intensity steady state) cardio to your routine, to create even more of a deficit. As with a bulk, you should always move slowly and proceed cautiously with a cut, continuing the process until you reach your goal. At the end of the cut, you can choose to maintain, or put on more muscle with another bulk.Implementing both bulking and cutting into your fitness regimen is one of the best ways to achieve the physique you desire.