Ask The Trainer #83 – Cut Up Or Bulk Up?


Hi Chad. I’m in need of some advice. I have a hard time building muscle, but I also have a tough time getting lean. Right now I’m about 20% body fat. I really want to lean out and get ripped, but I don’t have the amount of muscle I would like to have yet. My question is should I continue to bulk up until I have the amount of my muscle I want before I begin cutting, or do you think I should begin cutting and try to lose the fat first, then bulk up from there? I want the best of both worlds, but I’m not sure how to go about getting there?



Hi, Dwaine. I’ll be honest. I really don’t like the term BULKING because to me this term represents indiscriminately devouring any type of food you crave at any time of the day.

Usually, when people talk bulking, they are talking pizza, bacon cheeseburgers, French fries, donuts, cookies and other foods that contain exorbitant amounts of calories with very little nutrition.

While it’s true your body requires calories for a muscle to grow, a number of extra calories your body actually requires has been grossly exaggerated by the majority of the bodybuilding mainstream.

Let me break this down so it makes better sense…

One pound of muscle contains roughly 800 calories. If your training, nutrition and supplementation plan is perfect, and… you’re getting plenty of sleep every night—then your natural body chemistry could potentially synthesize a maximum of ½ to one pound of actual muscle per month. (This does not pertain to bodybuilders using steroids. I’m strictly referring to athletes who don’t use chemical enhancements.)

Now think about this. If one pound of muscle is about 800 calories, and your body can produce a maximum of 1 pound of muscle per month under ideal circumstances, how many calories beyond your metabolic and energy requirements do you suppose you need each day to support adding 1 pound of muscle per month? (HINT: It’s not a large pizza’s worth. Not a double bacon cheeseburger and large fries worth. Not a large bag of Doritos worth. Definitely not a package of Oreo cookies worth!)

Chad Shaw

You see your body can ONLY produce muscle according to its rate of protein synthesis. And this rate is actually based more so on your testosterone and growth hormone to cortisol ratio, your insulin sensitivity, leptin sensitivity,  your genetics, etc., than the number of calories you consume.

Therefore, consuming excessive amounts of food will NOT hasten protein synthesis. Instead, it will only make you fat! If you’re 20% body fat, that means you’ve been taking in far more calories than your body needs to produce muscle growth even at its most efficient rate.

I also want you to remember that the higher you allow your body fat levels to creep up, the more difficult it will be to lean out. This is because your fat cells are like little sacks. As you take in more calories than you need, these sacks fill up more and become larger. Eventually, they reach their size capacity to where they can no longer hold any more fat. To resolve this problem your body produces more fat cells! This is called fat cell hyperplasia. The more fat cells you allow your body to produce, the more difficult it will be to lean out. It will also be easier for your body to put on more fat!

So, to answer your question, continuing to bulk up will set you even further away from reaching your goal. I suggest going a reduced calorie diet that will allow you to lose about 2 pounds per week.

Begin by eliminating 700 calories from your diet daily. After 1 week, if you haven’t lost 2 pounds, then cut back by an additional 300 calories daily and try that for 1 week. From this point, continue to reduce your calories by around 300 each day for 1-week trials until you are finally at a point where you’re losing 2 pounds each week.

Try to avoid losing over 3 pounds per week. If you do you will be flirting with the prospect of losing muscle, which you definitely don’t want! Stay on track with this until you bring your body fat level down to 10%. At this point, you will have very little visible body fat. Your abs will look well conditioned and defined! From here, you can focus on slowly and methodically increasing your calories to support muscle growth.

You can use the visibility of your abdominals as a gauge as to whether or not you’re taking in too many calories. When your abs begin to disappear, you know you’re eating too much. Try not to let yourself gain more than 1-2 pounds per month as you attempt to add more size.

When your body is encased in a thick layer of fat, it’s extremely difficult to gauge just how much muscle you’re actually putting on. This is when your mind can play tricks on you. For example, you may think your arms, shoulders, and chest are showing more muscle size. However, these body parts actually appear “larger” because of the extra body fat you’ve gained… not muscle! When you’ve never had any definition, to begin with, it’s very hard to realize this.

By getting lean first, not only will you be able to gauge your muscle versus fat gains easier, but it’ll be easier to stay lean because you will have shifted your body’s set point, or the weight and condition your body strives to maintain.

I hope this information helps you out, and I wish you all the best in obtaining your goals!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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