Muscle for life

The Easiest Way to Know If You Should Cut or Bulk

The Easiest Way to Know If You Should Cut or Bulk

If you want to know whether you should “cut” (focus on losing fat) or “bulk” (focus on gaining muscle), then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. If you’re a man with more than 15% body fat or a woman with more than 25% body fat, then you should cut.
  2. If you’re a man with 10% body fat or less or a woman with 20% body fat or less, then you should bulk.
  3. The most reliable way to build your best body ever is to alternate between proper cycles of cutting and bulking.

You probably know what kind of physique you want, but you’re not quite sure how to best get there.

My guess is you want to be lean, strong, and muscular, and you’re struggling to understand the next immediate steps.

Should you “bulk” and focus on gaining muscle as quickly as possible, or should you “cut” and strip some fat and then bulk?

Well, both bulking and cutting have pros and cons.

Bulking adds both lean mass (yay) and body fat (boo), and cutting unveils your abs (hooray) but stunts muscle growth (hiss).

Furthermore, many people discover that they look a lot smaller after a successful cut than they anticipated. Maybe, then, they should just bulk for as long it takes to get the size they want and then go on a long cut to show it off?

Well, this is the dilemma that makes for a fitness purgatory of sorts where you don’t really commit to one strategy or another and thus stagnate in terms of progress.

In this article, you’re going to learn how to avoid this pitfall entirely, and it starts with answering the question on your mind:

Should you cut or bulk?

As you’ll find out, the answer depends mostly on your current body fat percentage.

The long story short is if your body fat percentage is too high, your number-one priority should be getting lean, not gaining muscle, and if it’s relatively low, then you should focus on gaining muscle, not getting even leaner.

And by the end of this article, you’ll understand why. You’ll know when you should cut, when you should bulk, and how to get the best possible results from both.

Let’s jump right in.

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How to Know If You Should Cut

If you’re currently unhappy with your body fat percentage and you really just want to get lean before worrying about adding significant amounts of muscle to your frame, then you want to cut.

There’s no reason to get fatter (which will happen when you bulk properly–more on that soon) just to gain some muscle if that’s not your primary concern at this point. Do what’s going to keep you motivated.

Similarly, if you’re currently very overweight, then you want to cut. This is the healthiest and smartest choice, even if your long-term goal involves gaining a fair amount of muscle.

If you’re in the middle, however–if your body fat is in a normal range and you like the idea of having abs but also want to get bigger–then whether you should cut or bulk is dictated by your body fat percentage.  

Specifically, you should cut if:

  • You’re a man with more than 15% body fat.
  • You’re a woman with more than 25% body fat.

Or, if you prefer a flowchart:

should i bulk or cut

(If you aren’t sure what your current body fat percentage is, then read this article.)

There are several reasons these guidelines work best for most people.

1. You’ll be generally happier with how you look.

Let’s face it: nobody likes feeling fat.

We don’t have to walk around shredded year-round, of course, but hey, at least half of the reason why we stick to meal plans and bust our asses in the gym every day is to look good.

Once you exceed those body fat thresholds (~15% for men and ~25% for women), you’re going to start feeling fat, and this can become demotivating.

The bottom line is it’s much easier to stick to a diet and training regimen when you like what you see in the mirror every day.

By never letting your body fat percentage go too high, you’ll never have to wonder why you’re working so hard to look like that.

2. You’ll lose more fat and less muscle when you cut.

You know the two best ways to lose muscle mass during a cut?

  1. Heavily restrict your calories.
  2. Make it last a long time.

And that’s exactly what many people do when they have a lot of fat to lose–they impatiently starve themselves and have to go for many months due to the sheer amount of fat they need to eliminate.

This can spell disaster for your body composition by burning significant amounts of muscle as well as fat, and the longer you cut, the more you’re going to have to deal with hunger, cravings, and lethargy.

This is why many people have trouble cutting for more than 3 or 4 months before they flame out and lose themselves to guilt-induced bingeing.

If you always keep your body fat at reasonable levels, though, your cuts will always be shorter and more manageable, both physically and psychologically.

3. You’ll gain more muscle and less fat when you bulk.

The fatter you are, the easier it is to get fatter and stay fat. There are several reasons for this.

First, as body fat levels rise, insulin sensitivity drops.

Insulin is a hormone that shuttles nutrients into cells, and as the body becomes resistant to its signals, natural fat burning decreases, the likelihood of weight gain increases, and protein synthesis (a process vital to muscle gain) is hindered.

The bottom line is that the better your body responds to insulin (the more insulin sensitive it is), the better it can do many things, including building muscle and resisting fat gain, which are your two biggest goals goals when bulking.

Second, as you get fatter, testosterone levels drop and estrogen levels rise.

Testosterone is a primary hormonal driver of muscle growth and high levels of estrogen promote fat storage, so the downsides here are clear.

As you can see, when you start a bulk with too much body fat, you’re setting yourself up for a major disappointment: you’ll probably gain too little muscle and too much fat, and then struggle to cut back to where you even started.

All that is why I highly recommend that you cut first if you’re over 15/25% body fat and want to develop an outstanding, muscular physique.

If you’re worried that you’ll feel too small if you were to cut now, I understand. I’ve been there myself. Take heart, though, because if you follow the advice in this article, you’ll eventually gain enough size to look lean and muscular year round.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

How to Cut Fat Without Losing Muscle

how to bulk and cut at the same time

If you’re familiar with my writing, then you’ll know that I’m a proponent of losing fat as fast as possible when cutting (without being stupid, like starving yourself or doing endless amounts of cardio).

My reasoning here is simple: by doing it this way, you can spend as little time cutting as possible (which is nice in and of itself), leaving you as much time for bulking (or maintaining) as possible.

This makes your fitness journey more enjoyable generally and also allows you to reach your goal physique as quickly as possible.

Now, most people talk about wanting to lose “weight,” but this should never be your goal.

The easiest way to lose weight is to just “starve yourself skinny,” which certainly burns fat but also burns muscle, and that’s how you ruin your body composition.

Instead, your goal should be to lose fat and not muscle, and here’s how to do it:

  1. Use an aggressive (but not reckless) calorie deficit.
  2. Eat a high-protein diet.
  3. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  4. Use high-intensity interval training to burn fat faster.
  5. Take fat loss supplements that actually work.

Let’s go over each step.

1. Use an aggressive (but not reckless) calorie deficit.

Studies show that the only way to lose a significant amount of fat is to eat fewer calories (less energy) than you burn.

You see, the reason you’re carrying excess body fat is, over time, you consistently ate more calories than you burned. And the only way to get rid of that excess fat is to do the opposite: eat less than you burn.

When you do this, you’re in a “calorie deficit” because, well, your energy intake is falling short of your body’s needs. It must get that additional energy from somewhere, though, and its go-to is fat stores.

Now, the larger the calorie deficit, the faster the weight loss, but if you make it too large (by eating too little), you’re going to run into various problems related to “starvation dieting.”

We want to avoid that, but we also want to push the envelope as much as we can. That is, we want to be aggressive in our fat loss efforts, but not reckless.

And that’s why I recommend that you set your calorie deficit at 20 to 25% (eat 20 to 25% less calories than you burn every day).

Research shows that this will allow you to lose fat rapidly without losing muscle.

If you follow the rest of the steps in this article, you also shouldn’t run into much in the way of hunger or cravings, either.

Sure, you might feel twinges now and then, but nothing like what most people associate with “dieting.”

Want to learn more about how to calculate how many calories you should eat? Check out this article.

2. Eat a high-protein diet.

When we’re talking body composition, protein is by far the most important macronutrient.

Studies show that eating adequate protein helps you…

The bottom line is high-protein dieting beats low-protein in every way, really, and especially when you’re cutting.

So, what’s the right amount of protein then?

Well, when you’re looking to lose fat, then you should eat about 1 to 1.2 grams per pound of body weight per day.

And if you’re very overweight (25%+ body fat in men and 30%+ in women), then this can be reduced to around 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass per day.

Want to know more about how much protein you should eat? Check out this article.

3. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.

cut or bulk first bodybuilding

There are many ways to train your muscles, and when the goal is gaining size and strength as quickly as possible, nothing beats heavy compound weightlifting.

It’s better than workout machines, “pump” classes, bodyweight exercises, Yoga, Pilates, and everything else you can do to develop your muscles.

What do I mean by “heavy compound” lifting, though?

Well, by “compound,” I mean focusing on compound exercises, which are those that target multiple large muscle groups, such as the squat, bench press, military press, and deadlift.

And by “heavy,” I mean lifting weights that are above 75% of your one-rep max (weights that you can do 12 reps or less with before failing).

The main reason heavy compound weightlifting is so effective is it’s the best way to overload your muscles, which is the primary trigger for muscle growth.

By lifting heavy weights (and progressing to heavier and heavier weights as you get stronger), you create tremendous amounts of tension in your muscles, and this tells them to grow.

I think you can figure out how this benefits you when you’re restricting your calories for fat loss.

In short, it allows you to minimize muscle loss while dieting, or, depending on your circumstances, even gain muscle while you’re losing fat.

Want to know how to build an effective weightlifting routine? Check out this article.

4. Use high-intensity interval training to burn fat faster.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of cardio that involves short, maximum effort sprints, followed by short periods of recovery.

I’m a big fan of HIIT for two reasons:

1. It burns quite a bit more fat in less time than traditional slow steady-state cardio.

In fact, research shows that you can burn as much fat in 25 minutes of HIIT as 60 minutes of incline treadmill walking.

2. It helps preserve muscle better than low-intensity cardio, mainly because you don’t have to do nearly as much to keep the needle moving.

To be specific, just 2 to 4 relatively short (20 to 25-minute) HIIT workouts per week is all you need to significantly boost your fat loss when cutting.

Want to know how to create HIIT workouts that really work? Check out this article.

5. Take fat loss supplements that actually work.

Unfortunately, no amount of weight loss pills and powders are going to give you the body you want.

In fact, most supplements are completely worthless.

But, here’s the good news:

If you know how to drive fat loss with proper eating and exercise, then certain supplements can help speed up the process.

Based on my personal experience training for over 10 years, and working with thousands of people, I’m comfortable saying that a proper weight loss supplementation routine can increase fat loss by about 30 to 50%.

In other words, if you can lose 1 pound of fat per week through training and diet (which you can), then you can lose 1.3 to 1.5 pounds of fat per week by adding the right supplements.

And here are those supplements:

Want to know more about fat loss supplements that actually work? Check out this article.

How to Know If You Should Bulk

First, you should only bulk if you want to maximize muscle gain and you don’t mind gaining some fat.

Yes, some people can gain muscle and lose fat the same time, but unless you’re new to weightlifting, you’re probably not one of them.

Instead, you have to choose one or the other, and as proper bulking revolves around maintaining a slight caloric surplus, it entails gaining some body fat. There’s just no way around it.

So, assuming you meet those criteria, you should bulk if:

  • You’re a man at or below 10% body fat.
  • You’re a woman at or below 20% body fat.

If you’d prefer a visual, here’s that flowchart again:

should i bulk or cut

(If you aren’t sure what your current body fat percentage is, then read this article.)

There are several reasons for these guidelines.

First, as we covered earlier, your body’s muscle-building machinery works best when you’re lean.

Insulin sensitivity remains high, testosterone production remains strong, and estrogen levels remain normal.

Thus, by never allowing yourself to get too fat, you can optimize muscle growth while bulking.

Second, you gain fat slower when you’re lean.

For many of the same reasons that you gain more muscle when you’re lean, you also gain less body fat.

The physiology is rather complex, but what it comes down to is this:

When your insulin sensitivity is higher, your body is primed to store more of your calories as muscle and glycogen, and less as body fat.

Third, the leaner you are when you start bulking, the longer you can effectively bulk for.

If you’re too fat when you start bulking, then you’re going to have to either cut it short or wind up way too fat in the end. Either way, this means less muscle growth than you want.

Start your bulks lean, though, and you’ll be able to stay in a surplus for much longer before having to cut, and this means more time spent gaining quality muscle.

The Bottom Line

By manipulating your calories and macros to stay in the range of 10 to 15%/20 to 25% body fat, you get the best of all worlds:

  1. You get to like how you look.
  2. You get to be healthier.
  3. You get to lose fat and not muscle quickly when you cut.
  4. You get to gain muscle and not fat quickly when you bulk.

How to “Lean Bulk” (Gain Muscle Without Getting Fat)

should i cut or bulk bodybuilding

You may have heard that bulking is unnecessary or even counterproductive.

If you really know what you’re doing, some people say, you can steadily gain muscle without adding even an ounce of body fat, regardless of your circumstances.

On the other hand, others claim the opposite is true–that you have to “eat big to get big,” and even recommend rather extreme diets like the “gallon of milk a day diet” (yeah, that’s a thing).

Well, both of these philosophies have it wrong.

Unless you’re brand new to weightlifting (or have #dedication running through your veins), you can’t effectively gain muscle without gaining some fat, too. That’s just the price you have to pay to get swole. 😉

That said, you don’t have to pile on slabs of body fat just to gain a few pounds of muscle. When you know how to “lean bulk” correctly, you can gain muscle and fat at a 1:1 (or even slightly better) ratio.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Eat slightly more calories than you burn.
  2. Eat a high-protein and high-carb diet.
  3. Don’t cheat/overeat too much.
  4. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  5. Take supplements that actually work.

Let’s look at each of these steps.

1. Eat slightly more calories than you burn.

The biggest mistake people that “can’t gain weight” make is not eating enough calories.

They may think they’re eating a lot of food every day, but when you actually analyze their weekly intake, it’s not all that impressive.

Having worked with hundreds if not thousands of “hardgainers” over the years, I’ve seen this far too many times.

While there has been the occasional guy who was actually eating 4,000+ calories every day and not gaining weight, it’s much more common to see average daily intakes around 2,500 to 3,000, which often isn’t enough for  “high-metabolic” types and/or guys who are very physically active.

Another major mistake that “hardgainers” often make is the opposite of the above: eating way too much.

They assume that if overeating by a little bit is better for gaining muscle, then eating everything in sight is much better.

It’s not.

You can’t force your muscles to grow faster by drowning them in calories, because beyond a certain point, food stops fueling muscle growth and just makes you fatter. This is why a slight calorie surplus of 10 to 15% is just as conducive to muscle growth as a larger surplus of 30% or more.

In other words, all you have to do to optimize muscle growth is eat 10 to 15% more calories than you burn every day (and get your macros right).

This is the point of diminishing returns, where increasing your caloric intake further contributes less and less to muscle building and more and more to fat storage.

This is why you should shy away from “dirty bulking,” as bodybuilders call it, and opt to “lean bulk” instead.

Want to learn how to “lean bulk” the right way? Check out this article.

2. Eat a high-protein and high-carb diet.

You’ve probably heard that a high-protein diet is best for building muscle.

This is true, and that’s why there’s so much talk about protein in bodybuilding circles.

What is “enough,” though?

Well, it’s quite a bit more than most people are used to eating, but still not quite as much as some people claim.

Research shows that eating around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day is ideal for muscle building purposes.

This isn’t news to most fitness folk, though. At this point, there’s little debate on the importance of eating a high-protein diet, but carbs are another story.

Low-carb diets are “the thing” these days, but the hype around them is undeserved because research shows that low-carb dieting doesn’t help you lose fat faster, and most definitely doesn’t help you gain muscle faster, either.

Instead, eating plenty of carbs helps you gain muscle faster in two primary ways:

1. It increases whole-body glycogen levels, which helps improve workout performance and enhances genetic signaling related to muscle growth.

2. It keeps insulin levels generally higher, which lowers the rate of muscle breakdown and creates a more anabolic environment in the body.

This is why multiple studies have shown that high-carb diets are better for gaining muscle and strength than low-carb ones.

So, the bottom line is this:

If you want to gain muscle as quickly as possible, then you want to eat more and not less carbs.

A good starting place is to get 30 to 50% of your total daily calories from carbs.

Want to learn how many carbs you should be eating and why? Check out this article.

3. Don’t overdo it on the overeating.

should i bulk or cut skinny fat

“I’m bulking, bro,” he says, as he sits down to eat a pile of candy and washes it down with a quart of chocolate milk.

For the third time this week.

Don’t be that guy (or gal). Don’t let your lean bulk go “dirty.” It’s easy to loosen the reins when you’re not restricting calories to lose fat, but this is a mistake.

If you want to get the most muscle (and least fat) out of your bulks, you want to regulate your calories and macros just as carefully as when you’re cutting.

The reason for this is obvious: if your baseline diet already has you in a slight caloric surplus, you’re going to gain some fat. If you grossly exceed this baseline, you’re going to gain a lot of fat (and you now know why this is highly undesirable when bulking).

Furthermore, eating too much high-sugar, highly processed, non-nutritious foods can cause other problems. For example…

Extended periods of sloppy, uninhibited eating also can make it especially difficult to change your ways when it finally comes time to face the music and get rid of unwanted body fat.

Here’s the rabid “IIFYMer” that tries to cut every month but simply can’t keep it together for more than a few weeks.

This is why I recommend you follow two simple guidelines when bulking:

1. Get at least 80% of your calories from whole, nutritionally dense foods.

This ensures your body will get everything it needs to stay healthy, while still leaving room for indulgences.

2. “Cheat” the right way.

Don’t ruin your plans with bingeing. Learn how to cheat intelligently instead, and you can successfully incorporate “cheat meals” into your diet without serious repercussions.

Want to learn more about “clean” vs. “dirty” bulking? Check out this article.

4. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.

If you don’t get the first three steps right, what you do in the gym won’t matter very much.

That’s how important proper dieting is.

If you do follow the above steps, though, the right workout program will make a huge difference in how quickly you can gain muscle and strength.

Hands down, the best types of workout programs for natural lifters are those that focus on heavy compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and military press.

It’s true that you can gain strength and muscle in many different ways, but decades of scientific and anecdotal evidence have conclusively proven that this is the most effective approach for increasing whole-body muscularity.

That’s why the strongest people in the gym are also generally the biggest, and if you want to build a great physique, why your primary goal should be increasing whole-body strength.

Want to learn how to create heavy compound weightlifting workouts that work? Check out this article.

5. Take the right supplements.

I saved this for last because it’s the least important.

Unfortunately, no amount of pills and powders are going to make you muscular and lean.

In fact, most supplements for building muscle and losing fat are worthless.

That said, if you know how to drive muscle growth with proper dieting and exercise, certain supplements can accelerate the process.

Here are the ones I use and recommend:

ATLAS Mass Gainer

In an ideal world, we’d get all of our daily calories from carefully prepared, nutritionally balanced meals, and we’d have the time to sit down, slow down, and savor each and every bite.

In the real world, though, we’re usually rushing from one obligation to another and often forget to eat anything, let alone the optimal foods for building muscle, losing fat, and staying healthy.

That’s why meal replacement and “weight gainer” supplements and protein bars and snacks are more popular than ever.

Unfortunately, most contain low-quality protein powders and large amounts of simple sugars and unnecessary junk.

That’s why I created ATLAS.

It’s a delicious “weight gainer” (meal replacement) supplement that provides you with 38 grams of high-quality protein per serving, along with 51 grams of nutritious, food-based carbohydrates, and just 6 grams of natural fats, as well as 26 micronutrients, enzymes, and probiotics that help you feel and perform your best.

ATLAS is also 100% naturally sweetened and flavored as well, and contains no chemical dyes, cheap fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

So, if you want to build muscle and lose fat as quickly as possible and improve the nutritional quality of your diet, then you want to try ATLAS today.

RECHARGE Post-Workout Supplement

recharge creatine supplement

RECHARGE is a 100% natural post-workout supplement that helps you gain muscle and strength faster, and recover better from your workouts.

Once it’s had time to accumulate in your muscles (about a week of use), the first thing you’re going to notice is increased strength and anaerobic endurance, less muscle soreness, and faster post workout muscle recovery.

And the harder you can train in your workouts and the faster you can recover from them, the more muscle and strength you’re going to build over time.

Furthermore, RECHARGE doesn’t need to be cycled, which means it’s safe for long-term use, and its effects don’t diminish over time.

It’s also naturally sweetened and flavored and contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

So, if you want to be able to push harder in the gym, train more frequently, and get more out of your workouts, then you want to try RECHARGE today.

WHEY+ Protein Powder

whey protein supplement

Whey protein powder is a staple in most athletes’ diets for good reason.

It’s digested quickly, it’s absorbed well, it has a fantastic amino acid profile, and it’s easy on the taste buds.

Not all whey proteins are created equal, though.

Whey concentrate protein powder, for example, can be as low as 30% protein by weight, and can also contain a considerable amount of fat and carbs.

And the more fat and carbs you’re drinking, the less you can actually enjoy in your food.

Whey isolate protein powder, on the other hand, is the purest whey protein you can buy. It’s 90%+ protein by weight and has almost no fat or carbs.

Another benefit of whey isolate is it contains no lactose, which means better digestibility and fewer upset stomachs.

Well, WHEY+ is a 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate protein powder made from exceptionally high-quality milk from small dairy farms in Ireland.

It contains no GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk, and it tastes delicious and mixes great.

So, if you want a clean, all-natural, and great tasting whey protein supplement that’s low in calories, carbs, and fat, then you want to try WHEY+ today.

PULSE Pre-Workout

pulse pre-workout

Is your pre-workout simply not working anymore?

Are you sick and tired of pre-workout drinks that make you sick and tired?

Have you had enough of upset stomachs, jitters, nausea, and the dreaded post-workout crash?

Do you wish your pre-workout supplement gave you sustained energy and more focus and motivation to train? Do you wish it gave you noticeably better workouts and helped you hit PRs?

If you’re nodding your head, then you’re going to love PULSE.

It increases energy, improves mood, sharpens mental focus, increases strength and endurance, and reduces fatigue…without unwanted side effects or the dreaded post-workout crash.

It’s also naturally sweetened and flavored and contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

Lastly, it contains no proprietary blends and each serving delivers nearly 20 grams of active ingredients scientifically proven to improve performance.

So, if you want to feel focused, tireless, and powerful in your workouts…and if you want to say goodbye to the pre-workout jitters, upset stomachs, and crashes for good… then you want to try PULSE today.

The Bottom Line on Whether You Should Cut or Bulk

Cutting and bulking properly is the most effective way to gain significant amounts of muscle over time.

Unfortunately, “body recomposition” just doesn’t work once your “newbie gains” have been exhausted. To get the physique you really want, you’re going to have to learn how to cut and bulk, and know when to do which.

So, to recap:

You should cut if…

  • If you’re currently unhappy with your body fat percentage and you really just want to get lean before worrying about gaining significant amounts of muscle.
  • You’re a man with 15+% body fat.
  • You’re a woman with 25+% body fat.

And you should bulk if you want to maximize muscle gain and you don’t mind gaining some fat, and…

  • You’re a man at or below 10% body fat.
  • You’re a woman at or below 20% body fat.

And when you’re cutting, you should maximize fat loss and minimize muscle loss by…

  1. Using an aggressive (but not reckless) calorie deficit.
  2. Eating a high-protein diet.
  3. Doing a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  4. Using high-intensity interval training to burn fat faster.
  5. Taking fat loss supplements that actually work.

And when bulking, you should maximize muscle and minimize fat gain by…

  1. Eating slightly more calories than you burn.
  2. Eating a high-protein and high-carb diet.
  3. Avoiding cheating/overeating too much.
  4. Doing a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  5. Taking supplements that actually work.

If you do all that, then you’ll have no trouble transforming your physique. It may take a bit longer than you want (scratch that, it will, haha), but stick to the plan and you’ll get there.

If you liked this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you like to hang out online! 🙂

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • Vman

    I’m adjusting my diet plan to try and lose weight and to add more protein as I’m seriously lacking proper protein. I have noticed or I could be wrong, but the days I eat more protein I seem to have more strength in the Gym. You reckon that’s a reasonable calorie deficit or should I eat more?
    Thanks! I’ve included an image you can download it not readable of meal plan.

  • Suzanne L Norman

    Hey Mike. Appreciate your posts so much. I’ve been in a long cut (with plenty of refeeds) and have made good progress. Down from about 30% bf to 23% now. I want to get to 20% but I’m on month 10, and I’m wondering if that’s too long to keep going. The last three months I’ve been doing your TLS program and it’s been awesome (wish I’d found it sooner). Thanks for any advice you can give me!

    • Hey Suzanne, great work so far! As long as you’re still losing weight and feeling good, you can continue with the cut. No need to stop what’s working well 🙂

      I hope this helps!

      • Suzanne L Norman

        It really does — thanks so much!

  • Jimmy

    How long should a Bulk cut cycle be? I have been cutting for a while, have gone from ~34% bf male to a ~13% bf. Soon as a hit around 9%, I want to start bulking. I want to keep the bulk cycle short to about 4 weeks and then cut for 2 and repeat that over and over, so I dont gain too much fat. Is this a reasonable plan?

    • Hey Jimmy, there’s no particular timeframe you have to adhere to, but I like to stretch out bulks as long as possible. I find that you get into a “groove” over time, making consistent strength gains, and that interrupting that with mini-cuts is counter-productive. Just gain slowly, and then cut again once you reach 15%-17%. Check this out:


  • Is there no magic calorie level where I can stay about the same weight, gain muscle (increase strength) and still loose fat?

    I’m at 17% right now (6’2, 173lbs). I was down around 14.5% 165 lbs (down from 26%, 210 last year) but whenever I see pictures of my self in the 15% range I looked way too skinny. So I upped my calorie intake by a couple hundred calories for the last 4-5 months (trying to keep a 40%P, 40%C, 20%F ratio). Now I’m back up to 17% 173lbs and l’m very happy with the way I look OTHER THAN my “love handles” and flab around the middle left over from when I was 26%. I want that gone but I don’t want to get smaller anywhere else.

    Am I dreaming?

  • William Lim Jr

    Hi Mike,

    I’ve been doing BLS for 3 years now and loving it a lot. I have been going through the Year 1 Challenge program each year, and use it for both bulking and cutting. At this point in time though, when I believe I have a good foundation for strength training, would I benefit from a bit higher rep range, and slightly lowered weight when cutting? Would you recommend using 6-8 or 8-10 rep range when I cut, instead of the 4-6 you programmed in Y1C?


    • Hey William, great to hear you’ve been loving BLS! There’s no need to change the rep ranges when you cut. Your main concern when cutting is to maintain your muscle and strength, so continuing to work in the 4-6 rep range is perfect for that.

      Check this out: https://legionathletics.com/how-to-lose-weight-fast/

      Keep up the good work and let me know how it goes 🙂

  • Susan M

    Great concise article! Just the perfect info to cut/bulk. I may be wrong, but if you’ve been cutting more than 5 months, I’d say you’re metabolic rate has slowed and adjusted to where you aren’t losing weight any longer. Using your carbs a little would kit start your metabolism again.

  • Matthew Boux

    Mike. I’m still cutting right now. On 2000 calories daily and losing weight steadily at 1.5lbs per week. I’m already down to 160. Any idea how long I’m going to have to cut or how low in weight I’m going to have to go? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1a244124c2ac3a31af2f8054b1362a4879002ed7a0bae131ebe218b018f6543f.jpg

    • Hey Matthew, check out the infographic in this article: https://www.muscleforlife.com/how-long-to-get-six-pack-abs/

      • Matthew Boux

        Hi mike yes I have seen this graphic before. As of this morning my weight is down to 157.5lbs. That means I’ve lost 14lbs total nod. My stomach is a lot flatter than it was when I started but there’s still no sigh of the abs yet. Am I really going to have to get down to 140?

        • For fully visible abs, probably. You’re young though – I’d recommend following a sensible diet, listening to your body, and maintaining a healthy body fat range. No need to get sub-10% shredded.

          • Matthew Boux

            Thanks mike. I am going to keep losing weight right now because my strength is still increasing on my cut. So I’m doing well. I think most of the weight lost is fat and not muscle. I’ll probably stop after another 10 pounds

          • Sounds good. Keep me updated on your progress!

  • Meaghan Schwigen

    Hey Mike,

    Love your work and all of the resources you provide us with!

    What would you say my Bf% is? I’m 5’5.5”, flucatuate 120-123lbs. I’ve been eating around 1,500 calories per day. I have a hearty appetite and wouldn’t want to do less than 1,300 calories per day. I do muscular structure 5 days 30 minutes per week and do some different forms of cardio such as cycling, dance cardio, and speed walking/running 30-45 minutes 4 days per week. I had the white calipers you suggested and that puts me around 15.

    My question is do you recommend cutting or bulking? And would you say my body type is ecto or meso? And if I cut, which weight/calipers should I get to before I bulk? I have attached a few photos for reference. Thank you in advance! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a81858cc3d6248e295fc9c585f487f77b844ab2454617c313260ff9a368d7c66.jpg
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/06b00959a3c56cbc440ea1c32903d2744a6e5877544d71f5ff61455c940623bb.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3c6c555113635b4e702aaf5cb35b788c89cdf5fe3df9abfdd666b618f3522c91.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ce261b8e881c461f81e35e65309ab3bc2bd9ed6a7b0537c6ffc12f02b62edb05.jpg

    • Thanks for the support Meaghan! You look great (and just an FYI in case you don’t know how Disqus works, both your full name and pictures are publicly visible here on the blog, which I’m fine with if you are, but just wanted to give you a heads up).

      Anyway, I would guess you’re around 20%, and I like your exercise schedule but your calories are quite low unless you’re cutting (I’m guess you burn around 2,000 calories per day?). If you’re cutting, though, that sounds about right.

      Regarding carbs and fats, sure, eat more fat and fewer carbs if you like it that way.

      You definitely don’t need to cut if you want to focus on gaining muscle. You’re definitely lean enough to lean bulk.

      Regarding your body type, don’t worry about that as the entire ecto/meso/endo classification system has no real bearing on how you’re going to eat or train and the results you can achieve. You can read more about this here:


      Hope this helps!

      • Meaghan Schwigen

        Ah good call, I went ahead and deleted the photos. Thanks for the heads up!

        In terms of my activity multiplier, what number would you recommend I select on your macro calculator? I always have trouble because when I go too high, I gain some weight but when I go too low I feel like I’m always incredibly hungry.

        • Unless you have a physically demanding job or are exceedingly active, the 1.35x multiplier should work well. Either way, the calculator just offers a starting point, and you’ll have to adjust based on your real-life results anyway.

          One thing you can try at this point to find your maintenance calories is a reverse diet. Basically, you slowly increase your caloric intake each week. The goal is to reach your estimated TDEE without gaining any fat, but ultimately, you’ll find the calories that work for you to maintain your weight. From there, you can increase calories 10% or so for a bulk.

          Check this out:


          If you’re happy where you’re at and don’t want to bulk or gain much muscle, you can just stick to your maintenance calories for as long as you like.

          Let me know how it goes!

  • Meaghan Schwigen
  • MikeUhl

    I’ve been cutting for a year now- since I discovered MFL and BLS. The problem is I can’t get down to 10%. Been lingering around 12%. I guess i was not strict enough or miscalculating my macros? My problem is- I need a break. And cutting for a year definitely makes me think I’ve now fucked up my metabolism. What should I do now? Slowly reverse diet into my maintainence and for a few months and back to cutting? Or just reverse diet into a bulk until I hit 15% BF??

    • Hey Mike, if you need a break, try reverse dieting back up to your calculated TDEE. Give this article a read:


      From there, you can cut again if you want to get down to 10%, or you can bulk if you want to focus on putting on size. I hope this helps!

      • MikeUhl

        Thanks so much for always responding! I think I’m gonna reverse diet back up to TDEE and maybe bulk up to 15% bf since I’ve been cutting FOREVER. Thank you again!

  • DK

    Hey Mike
    Another very concise article. I have been on BLS for over 2 years but unfortunately I haven’t made the progress that I should have. Ok so I gained a bit of muscle but nothing really noticeable. I tracked macros and workouts and rarely missed a session. My main problem is I can’t get lean enough and therefore never really look that good. I’m pretty small as it is, sitting around 150lbs and ideally I would like to be around this weight or more with a lower bf %…anything lower and I look crap. My heaviest was 158 but my bf % was probably around 19%. When I cut I went down to 134lbs and still couldn’t see my abs. I reckon I would have had to lose another 10lbs to get down to sub 12%. The problem was I looked terrible to the point were a friend asked me if I was ill so to lose more weight was just silly. I really can never see a time when I will have abs. I have continued to train, bulking and trying mini cuts but recently have lost the motivation. I guess when you’re 175 and need to lose 20 lbs it’s not so bad but when like me you need to go below 130, things get a little tougher.
    Having said that I still think your content is as good as it gets.
    Thanks for all your advice in the past.

    • Hey DK! It’s true that some people respond better to training than others and can get to their goal more quickly, but there’s no reason you can’t continue to make progress if you want to. Getting abs requires more than just getting lean. You also have to develop your core, and maybe you just needed to spend a bit more time building muscle, and gaining weight a bit more slowly on a bulk to avoid fat gain.

      Regardless, I appreciate your support!

      • DK

        Thanks Mike. Need to get the motivation back now lol and get back on it.

        • No problem! Get to it and keep me updated on your progress 🙂

  • Tom Feltenbarger

    I have been on BLS for over 18 months. I dropped 20 pounds, gained a few pounds of muscle and got a lot stronger until I plateaued a few months ago. I have a really good free weight gym in my basement that I use 4-5 hours a week in the early morning. I feel like I should have more muscle growth for all this work. I got a wearable two months ago and now I’m seeing that I’ve been 1000 calories short of a surplus every day due to physical activity. Am I past my newbie gains potential of 10-20 pounds of muscle my first year? I’m 6’2” 203 pounds 32 years old.

    • Hey Tom! Your newbie gains refer to your first 20 or so lbs of muscle gain, not a specific time frame, so if you haven’t achieved that yet, you can still make pretty quick progress. The “window” doesn’t disappear after a year, luckily 🙂

      Those wearable trackers can be pretty inaccurate. However, if you want to bulk, just ramp up your calories slowly until you’re gaining 0.5-1lb per week. I hope this helps!

  • Roper

    Hi Mike,
    Maybe I missed it, but never noticed this one thing,if clean bulking after getting to about 10 percent bf, and doing it sensibly adding about 20-25 percent more calories, and if 165 pounds now, what weight should I go up to before starting cut (run on sentences my specialty). Thanks.

    • I recommend being in a smaller surplus to help minimize fat gain. A 20% surplus will result in more fat gain than necessary, so go with 10% or so. There’s no particular weight to start cutting at because it depends on how much muscle/fat you put on during the bulk. If you put on fat/muscle in a 1:1 ratio, you’d be able to get up to around 190 before reaching 15% body fat. If you aren’t as strict with your diet, and put on fat a bit faster, you’ll reach 15% more quickly and before you get up to 190lbs, for example. I hope this helps!

      • Roper

        Totally get it and thanks. Appreciate the great advice, and using your whey, Recharge, Pulse and Atlas, love them all. Looking forward to the protein bars!

        • Awesome! Glad to hear you’re loving the supps, too. Let me know if I can help with anything else 🙂

  • JR

    Best advice out there! Thanks Mike! I did this and very happy with my physique, albeit I also incorporated heavy calisthenics training to my compound lifts. Cheers!

  • Cameron

    Hi mike I’m just curious as to why in this article you state heavy lifting as 75% of 1RM for no more than 12 reps. In everything I’ve ever read of yours it says 85% for 4-6, I am currently on a cut now should I adjust my training to 75% up 12 reps max. If so is there a reason you would train in the more sarcoplasmic region rather than the microfibillar region on a cut? (Forgive spelling)

  • Matthew Boux

    Hi mike! So my cut has been going on for 8 weeks now. I know you typically don’t recommend going longer than 3 months at a time, so I want to finish by late November. But if for whatever reason I’m still not done by then do I just go back to maintenance for a few weeks and then continue?

    Is it possible to shave off 8 more pounds of fat and 5% in the next 4 weeks or is that a little far fetched?

    • It’s ok to cut for longer than 3 months if you need to. However, if you need a break psychologically, or hit a plateau and can’t add any more activity/lowering your cals would put you below BMR, I’d recommend reverse dieting and eating at maintenance for a week or two. From there, you can cut again. I explain in this article:


      It’s certainly possible to lose 8lbs in 4 weeks, but it might be a little quick for most people unless they’re significantly overweight.

      • Matthew Boux

        Thanks mike. I’ve been losing at a rate of 2 pounds per week or so this whole time. I read in your book that we should lose 1 pound per week. So does losing 2 put me at risk of muscle loss? Even at this rate I have maintained my strength for the most part, although I find its getting harder

        • It can, depending how lean you are, but if you’re maintaining your strength, I’d stick with it.

          If you see a large reduction in strength (10%+ reduction in 1RM) that’s getting progressively worse, then you’re losing weight too quickly and should eat a bit more or reduce your cardio. Otherwise, keep at it.

          • Matthew Boux

            Thanks. I have lost a bit of strength on my bench but have maintained on everything else. Why could this be? My deadlift and squat are doing fine but I lost 5lbs off my bench

          • There’s lots of factors that could affect it, but what matters is if it’s a trend or getting worse. Check this out: https://www.muscleforlife.com/weightlifting-plateau/

  • Pablo Andrada

    Hi Mike,

    Let me introduce myself, I’m Pablo from Uruguay, (spanish speaker so I apologize for any mistake).

    I’ve read you books BLS & Beyond, and I found them really valuable..Congratulations for all your contents , postcasts , articles , etc!!

    I’ve started the BLS program in a cut diet and I’m seeing really good results.. I’m 25 years old and been around the gym since I was 16… I went from skinny to moderate big and pretty strong but never looked lean at all (I was always bulking).. Now I’ve lost 15 pounds in 3 months and I have 15%bf at 183lbs.. my height is 6 ft.


    OK , after the big introduction 🙂 I wanted to ask you something about fasted cardio.. I lift heavy weights five times a week.. I do HIIT cardio in stationary bike 1-2 times a week but sometimes I don’t have time at night (and sometimes I’m really exhausted haha)..

    I do instead have time to take long walks (1 – 1.5 hours) early in the morning (fasted state).. I actually enjoy them..

    Do you think it’s neccessary to take any BCAA for long walks?

    Thanks in advance , Cheers!!

    • Hey Pablo! I’m glad you enjoyed my books and found them useful! I really appreciate it!

      Sounds like you’re makign some awesome progress as well, so keep up the good work 🙂

      Walking is very low-impact and low-intensity, so it probably isn’t going to cause the same level of breakdown as fasted lifting or HIIT. I wouldn’t bother taking BCAAs before the walk.

      I hope this helps!

  • Lim

    Hello, thx for the article. I’d like to know what should i do if my bf is below 25% ,but not 20%. My bf is 23% and i would like to lose fat,but i love also lifting. I’m a woman, 29 years old. Should i focus on cutting until i reach that 20% fat? At the moment i lift weights and also doing cardio and hiits, but I would really really like to reach 20% fat or 18%…Thank you.

    • Hey Lim! If you want to reach 18-20%, you should cut. Your boyfriend should aim for 10% before bulking. I hope this helps!

  • Luka

    Hi Mike,

    I am on my 2nd week of cat and still around 15% of BF. I recently found out that I may need to be going through surgery of my shoulder ( I have a SLAP need endoscopy) which will put me off the training for approx. 6 months. The surgery will take place in a month or two which normally would be still in my cutting period. My questions is knowing that in let’s say 2 month I will be taken off the training for 6 months should I bulk now instead of cut in order to gain max possible results in terms of muscle gain? That would mean getting to around 17-18% of BF before surgery and of course more muscle OR just continue to do my regular cat. Get to 10% just before surgery and wait 6 month being already shredded to start with? 🙂

    • Hey Luka! It might be worth checking with your pre-surgery PT to see what they recommend. Sometimes they’ll have you strengthen the area before the surgery to help with recovery. Regardless, it’s not going to make a big difference if you bulk or cut over the next month. Personally, I’d rather lose a little body fat first and then eat around maintenance during the recovery period.

      I hope this helps and good luck with the surgery!

  • Jason

    Good afternoon Mike! Quick question. Been cutting for a several months now and now ready to bulk.
    My question is, should I input my new weight class in the calculator or use the original for bulking? I would imagine I should use my current weight vs my weight prior to cutting. I looked through BLS book and your articles but I did not see this mentioned anywhere. So I am hoping for clarity before I begin. I hope to hear from you. Thanks for everything!

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