To bulk or to cut?
For that is the question!
As a Sports Dietitian and Nutritionist, I have helped countless people over the years work on their body composition. With this has come many different questions I commonly get asked but one particular one that is popular is: should I first build muscle (bulking) or drop bodyfat?
The answer to this question is honestly more nuanced and contextual than I can answer without knowing your unique situation but there is some best practice perspective and guidance I can share.
Time to get some more insight into your body composition goals so you can choose if your currency priority is fat loss or muscle gain (aka should I bulk or cut). .
In this blog, I share 2 easy peasy ways that you can help make a more educated decision on which goal you should focus on first. So should you cut or bulk first? Time to get more informed!
Losing weight vs. gaining muscle…a tango that has been around the health and nutrition space for decades. The ying and yang. Two parts of the body composition train but opposites all the same.
It is no uncommon for people to be searching for the “best way to lose weight” or the “best way to gain muscle”.
In fact, physique based goals make up a large majority of the health and fitness goals floating around in the world.
With this keen interest in optimising and transforming your physique, it does not surprise me that more and more people are trying to choose between cutting vs bulking…or more specifically “which one should I do first?!”.
Well, if you yourself are juggling your decisions around bulking and cutting (and which to focus on first), I have 2 easy methods that will help you make a more informed decision.
Let class commence now!
The Single Question Approach
One of my favourite ways to help people decide if they should first lose weight or build muscle, is having them ask a simple question. This question ensures you consider your own situation when making the decision and helps provide an initial guidance point.
The question is:
“Am I currently happy (or content) with my level of bodyfat?”.
If the answer is YES, then feel free to do a bulk first and build up some lean mass and size before doing a fat loss phase at a later stage. This ensures you optimise your body composition prior to any “shedding of bodyfat”.
If the answer is NO, then it is generally a better choice to do a shredding phase first so that you get to a level of leanness you are at least comfortable with and confident enough in.
The reason is because you want to start any muscle building phase at a level of bodyfat that will allow some additional “room to move” so you can do the bulk longer potentially.
If you start a bulk while you have an amount of bodyfat you hate, the chances are high that you will cut the bulk prematurely short OR you will feel crappy while doing it and not feel confident in your body.
This is why I promote a lean bulking approach over a dirty bulking approach. A lean bulk is the best way to bulk for the majority of dieters and it ensures you do so in a way that does not supercharge your increase in bodyfat - leading you to a longer period of cutting that would need to follow (and I don’t need to tell you perpetual/chronic dieting and restriction can have it’s pitfalls!).
The G.L.A.P Approach
The G.L.A.P acronym is simply Get Lean As Possible. The refers simply to the general consensus and approach in the health and fitness space that states that you should start your bulking phase from the point at which you are as lean as you can comfortably get too (without pushing the limits...we aren’t talking bodybuilder lean here).
This approach is a more direct version of the above Single Question Approach I use as it cuts through all the YES and NO and decision making by simply saying you get lean first then build muscle.
So if you are wanting the most direct answer than this is it! However, please note the potential issues, though, such as a preoccutoation with leanness and also not considering other factors when making your decision.
Approaching your body composition optimisation journey in this cut and dry way is mostly suited for those who are primarily focussed on the aesthetics of their physique and/or people who have a healthy mindset and relationship when it relates to their body image.
If you can look at your physique objectively and your goals too, then perhaps cutting through the noise and simply using the GLAP approach could be worth considering.
However, if you are wanting to be more contextual and considerate of your own thoughts around your body and make a more informed decision, the simple question approach is probably the better way to go.
There you go!
Now you have 2 ways in whccih you can help answer the question of bulking vs cutting first. Using either of these approaches will be a reasonable starting point for you if you are stuck making a choice.
However, the best thing you can do for your nutrition is add context and consider the naunce of your unique situation. This means that the answer to which phase you should do first can vary from person to person because of contextual considerations.
So always approach with customisation/individualisation!
Good luck in your body composition endeavors.
However, before I leave you…I do want to ask you some things because maybe you need someone you be your guide on this journey…
Do you feel you need expert guidance when it comes to your fuelling, recovery, and nourishment?
Not seeing the body you feel happier, healthier, and more confident in?
Performance lagging like an early 2000’s dial up internet setup?
I may be able to be of assistance.
If you are ready to take your nutrition and body to the next level and elevate your performance in a way that doesn’t make you want to punch your Sports Dietitian, then let’s chat.
I have developed a bespoke nutrition coaching solution that allows you to work with me personally 1:1 to help start bridging the gap between where you are now and where you want to be with your physique & performance.
In this program, I'll personally coach you using my flexible nutrition system to help you harness the power of calories and macro strategy to regain your competitive edge - think of it as a bespoke nutrition solution that empowers you to eat better to achieve better.
Interested in learning more?
Simply email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org to have a chat about this and see if we are a good fit to work together and get you your best results yet.
Or to apply now to see if you are a good fit, simply CLICK HERE and start the process for reaching your peak potential.
Brisbane Sports Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist
Hi there! My name's Aleksa Gagic - i'm a Brisbane Sports Dietitian & Brisbane Sports Nutritionist. I have 7+ years experience in providing professional nutrition consulting and want to help you learn about the power of flexible nutrition.