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"Cutting" vs. "bulking" -- mutually exclusive?

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  • "Cutting" vs. "bulking" -- mutually exclusive?

    I'm confused. Does it always have to be one or the other? Is it not possible to consume, say, 2000 calories of largely fats/protein and still gain lean muscle mass (read: "bulking") while losing body fat? It seems all the aficionados in various body building/fitness forums (e.g., reddit/r/fitness) suggest that you need to focus on one and not the other. I'm curious what you all think, and what has your personal experience shown you?

    I'm 5'9", approx 185 lbs, probably about 20% BF, and I'm relatively new to the Stronglifts 5x5 world. I've been making some excellent gains in all my lifts this month while eating a ton of fats/proteins (largely steak and eggs). I'd like to cut down on my body fat but I'm worried that I'll stop making progress on my lifting. I'm probably consuming 2600-3000 calories per day right now. Like indicated above, if I dropped down to ~2000 calories, would I then be "cutting" without expectations of lean muscle growth?

  • #2
    i'm currently increasing my strength and losing body fat at the same time. That's not to say that either activity wouldn't be better accomplished on it's own, but i'm not interested in waiting for one phase to end.

    I lost the bulk of my body fat by initially going paleo. I then felt it was time to get back into resistance training after a few years off

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    • #3
      It's possible to add muscle mass while losing fat, but it's damn hard. You can get from point A to point B by hopping on one foot, backwards, blindfolded, but it's not the easiest way.
      The Champagne of Beards

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      • #4
        It is very very simple, if you want to get "cut" you have to reduce your calories and burn more than you take in, not drastically mind you, just by about 400 or 500 a day, keep that protein up and supplement with amino acids, stay dedicated and be patient.

        If you want to bulk, and i mean bulk, if you want to add serious muscle and size, you have to eat like a monster and try and hit around 4,000 a day, and lift heavy and stay dedicated and be patient. It takes time.

        I have flipped flopped between doing these two things for a while and never gave either 100%, I would want to get big, eat like crazy for 3 weeks then decide i want to get cut, it's stupid nothing will happen that way.

        Is it one or the other? Depends on what you want to do, I see "cut" and "big" as extremes, I want to be bigger but that will come with eating lots of good foods, hitting around 2,500 calories a day or so and lifting heavy. Will I be cut? no...will I be huge? no probably not, but I will have more muscle and be in good shape. So decide what you want to do, pick a goal and do that. if you want to get cut, reduce your calories, keep lifting heavy, and add extra conditioning, you will get weaker, it is going to happen, if you don't want that to happen, then don't reduce your calories, it's not a perfect world. But if you do reduce calories and get cut you then can lift heavy and program smart and get your strength back ( in due time) professionals always Bulk, Cut, and then get back to their strength in there new "cut" state.

        Good luck.

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        • #5
          You can bulk & cut at same time, slowly over time, if you are over 15% body fat and still have "linear gains" in you (new to barbell lifts) . This applies to you. You achieve this by overeating on days you train (and most calories coming in the post workout window) and then undereating on rest days. It does not optimize muscle gaining nor fat loss, but achieves both in handicapped ratios.

          That being said, it is generally recommended that you do not "bulk" until you are sub 15% body fat. At this level the body is better setup to avoid fat gain on a bulk. At your current experience level, you could still see gains in the gym while at a slight deficit (~300-500 calories).

          My 2c

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          • #6
            Originally posted by RichMahogany View Post
            It's possible to add muscle mass while losing fat, but it's damn hard. You can get from point A to point B by hopping on one foot, backwards, blindfolded, but it's not the easiest way.
            this

            I think the mistake that newbs make is that they go from overweight and untrained to active, lifting heavy, and making progress. sure they will build a little muscle and burn a little fat. because eating paleo and working out with a barbell is way better than eating pizza and playing playstation. so they think that they are bulking and cutting fat at the same time. in actually a true bulk and a true cut are polar opposites

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            • #7
              When you are new to weight training it's very easy to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. Once you get to a point where you are strong and lean (<10% BF) then it becomes much harder to do both at the same time. I'd even consider it counterproductive. I remain lean year round now that I am following primal, but if I want to pack some muscle on I always eat a ton more food which inevitably causes me to gain some fat while im at it. Fortunately, a week of eating what I normally do shreds the fat right back off.

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              • #8
                Well, I'm trying really hard to gain strength without bulking and hopefully if anything, lose a little fat. It's not working. I think I'm getting the strength part, but it's not spectacular. Not seeing the fat loss.
                Female, 5'3", 50, Max squat: 202.5lbs. Max deadlift: 225 x 3.

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                • #9
                  Funny, my bodyweight is going up and I seem to get leaner around my waist! My lifting belt is much less tight on the second hole now at 218 pound than it was when I was 200 pound…
                  "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

                  - Schopenhauer

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                  • #10
                    Yes, it's perfectly possible to do both at the same time, and honestly I think people make it out to be more difficult than it really is. In fact, I think it tends to happen often, especially when untrained people start training with a decent program.

                    In order to make muscle grow you just need to apply stress (workout in an effective way) and supply adequate nutrients (especially protein, generally). Losing fat is a bit more complicated, but it is mainly a function of being in an overall healthy state (hormonally, metabolically, etc) and not taking in excessive calories to the point where your body has no use for them and will just store them for later.

                    So, very generally speaking: train effectively, eat healthy foods, and keep the amount you eat "reasonable" (enough to recover well from workouts, but low enough that you see body fat declining). It's a balance, but with practice you can find it.

                    Bear in mind -- the scale weight probably won't change much, after all, if you gain 2 lbs of muscle and lose 2 lbs of fat then you weigh the same. But 2 lb muscle up and 2 lb fat down is going to LOOK really nice in the mirror -- and FEEL good too.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Bagwell View Post
                      I'm confused. Does it always have to be one or the other? It seems all the aficionados in various body building/fitness forums suggest that you need to focus on one and not the other...

                      I've been making some excellent gains in all my lifts this month while eating a ton of fats/proteins (largely steak and eggs). I'd like to cut down on my body fat but I'm worried that I'll stop making progress on my lifting.
                      OP, to answer you more directly -- yes, your strength/muscle gains would probably slow if you start cutting calories. As Rich stated above, it's generally easier to gain muscle without trying to cut, or vice versa, than to do both simultaneously. If someone wanted to increase their bench press as fast as possible and that was their only goal, then I'd tell them to eat like crazy to encourage maximum recovery and muscle growth. They'd probably gain some body fat, but they'd achieve their goal. This isn't to say that you have to eat so much that you gain fat in order to build muscle, just that that's the fastest and easiest way to go about it.

                      So yeah, gaining muscle and cutting: focusing on either one will usually slow progress with the other -- but they are not mutually exclusive, it's just a more gradual process when you do them both at once.

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                      • #12
                        Since you're relatively new to Stronglifts, I assume you're new to strength training in general. The gains you're seeing are mainly from adaptations in your CNS. Your not gaining much if any muscle. Once your CNS has reached it's potential, then the body will need to start growing muscle to get stronger. Until then, it is possible to get stronger and lose fat at the same time. Though like everyone else said, if you get lean, it will be difficult to do both. It's still possible with strict meal timing and macronutrient partitioning. This mainly manipulates your body's hormones to optimize muscle growth while losing fat, but it doesn't work forever in my opinion. This is why cutting and bulking exists. It applies mainly to bodybuilders who usually need to cut down to like 5% body fat just before competition.

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