T Nation

%bodyfat to start bulking

I am anxious to start bulking up and using mag-10. But first I need to get my bf% lower. What bf% range does everyone work with? When should I start bulking? Is 10% low enough to go on a bulk program? How high does everyone get before swithinhg back to cutting?

Steve: These are the rough, “accepted” numbers:

“Ideal” Start Point for Beginning Bulking: 10% (or below) to 12% BF for males; 15-17% for females.

“Maximum” Start Point for Beginning Bulking: 12% for males/ 17% for females.

At 15% for males and 20% for females, you begin to push the limits of fat percentages.

Male 3% Female 3%

Male >25% Female >30%

Male 15-20% Female 20-25%

Male 10-15% Female 15-20%

Male 8-10% Female 10-15%

Male 5-6% Female 8-10%

THESE NUMBERS ARE NOT WRITTEN IN STONE! They are merely rough guidelines!

Hope this helps!

Hi Mufasa,

Got a question re: essential fat % for men and women. I thought women's was higher than men? Can you explain to me why it's same for both? Thanks.

Stella: I believe “essential” is the operative word. As in the most basic or necessary amount of bodyfat for the body. Quite possibly could be the same for either gender.

Let me just jump in real quickly regarding the so called “essential fat”. Obviously we do have some essential fat, but how much, no one knows. The cadaver data is very weak and shows no consistent trends regarding essential fat and with our current composition methods, anything else is just a guess. Also, there is much debate as to what should be considered “essential fat” (i.e. - are we just talking triglycerides or also couting phospholipid membranes that surround our cells). I hope you get the general idea. I like Mufasa’s body composition guidelines. They are pretty solid and are based on the current methods used to calculate body composition. As for the essential fat, I’d personally not even touch that topic as it is full of guesses based on a severe lack of data.

Pat’s right. We really don’t vary a lot in the fat that is within our bones and that surrouding out organs, nerves and vessels.

Thanks for clarification Patricia & Jason. I guess I wouldn’t worry about the essential fat thingie since I don’t think I’ll ever reach 3%BF or go below it. I’ll be happy when I reach low teens. :slight_smile:

So, let me get this straight. If I’m hovering around 15% BF, should I try to lose some weight before doing a bulking cycle? Or is that close enough to go ahead, then do a cut cycle after?

Spanky: One thought and one principal:

1)It really depends on your individual tendency to put on fat. If you don’t put on fat easily, you’ll probably be “ok”.


J.B. recently posted an OUTSTANDING piece that helped to answer this question on “to-bulk or to-cut first”. (Sorry…I forgot which it was…but I’ll look it up). Anyway…the basic principal, proven with studies, is this:

The greater the amount of fat you start with prior to beginning a bulking cycle, the greater the PERCENTAGE of that weight gain will turn out to be fat (relative to muscle), and visa versa.

So…given these two issue (none of us will know your body and it’s responses better than you), it’s a decision you’ll have to make. (On a personal note…I have to get reasonably lean (12% or so)before I TOUCH a bulking cycle. Can you say “Lee Priest/Pillsbury Dough Boy?”)

Yes, it is recommended that you lose a little bit more fat before you bulk, unless you are really small and need size bad. Like if you were 6’3" and weighed 150lbs and were 20% body fat, you should just go ahead and put some meat on.

Just wanted to say thanks for the detailed answer to my question. Exactly what I was looking for!

Just want to echo what Mufasa said about it being an individual thing. I went on a bulking cycle last year, starting at about 13%. Gained 7 lbs muscle, 2 lbs fat. Not bad results. Did another one this year starting at 15% (a horrendous side-trip into HST was responsible for the interim increase), and gained a couple of 6 lbs muscle, 3 lbs fat. So not as good, but still mostly muscle. And honestly, I believe that the greater fat gain this time was due more to my being looser with my diet (and less intense in the gym) than starting at a higher “fat-point”.

Anyway, I’m going to start cutting for summer soon, but just wanted to show that for a guy who’s basically ectomorphic (just in case you might be too), I think you can go quite a bit above the “usual” guidelines and still not get into too much trouble.

Ahh! Found it!

It was “Issue 167, July 27, 2001”, J.B.'s “Appetite For Construction”.

I tell you…I was blown away with the research J.B. presented and the conclusions, mainly because it answered (or at least gave you the tools to make your OWN decision) on whether to “cut” or “bulk” first.

“However, as I said before, the basic principles remain. When dieting, the leaner you get, the less your calorie deficit should be or else you’ll lose more LBM than necessary. And, when bulking up, your best bet is to start lean, as most of the weight you gain will be LBM. If you start fat, much of your weight gain will be fat gain.”

“Although this was a roundabout way of answering your question, the bottom line is that it looks like it is better to diet down first then bulk up rather than the other way around”.

Kewl stuff!