T Nation

Bulk Phase w/o the Bulk?


One of the ongoing debates on T-Mag seems to be whether or not you can gain muscle mass ('bulk') and lose body fat ('cut') at the same time. Although I believe this is theoretically possible most of us would be pretty damn happy if we could just induce hypertrophy without adding body fat, or reduce body fat without experiencing any muscle atrophy or strength loss.

Along these lines, a thought in terms of nutrition: Is it possible then to 'bulk' (meaning here to induce hypertrophy but not necessarily gain body weight) WITHOUT consuming calories above maintenance?

If you are 1) training for hypertrophy, 2)consuming enough carbs to push large amounts of protein into your muscles, and 3) giving those muscles adequate rest, recovery, and rebuilding time it seems that this goal should be possible without all the excess calories (after all it's protein that builds muscles not calories).

Of course the gain in muscle mass has to come from somewhere and so if you're not losing fat and you're keeping a neutral energy balance where would the gain come from? Is it still just better to balloon up, eat everything in sight, and then lose the fat later? Something tells me that there must be a better way. Maybe eating year round at maintenance plus or minus a few hundred calories and then altering the macronutrient content and training program depending on the focus. I don't know. Any takers on this?


Well you can't gain muscle mass without gaining overall weight or maybe losing fat, so yeah the gain has to come from somewhere.

You can though gain strength as made obvious by the many lifters who stay in the same weight class yet get stronger, our man Sully26 is but one of the many good examples of that.

If you wanted to do a gaining cycle by going just a hundred cals above maintenance, go ahead. That is just a really long term look at it, although my guess is by doing that you probably would increase your maintenance levels and the gain would stop after a short while, requiring adjustments in your eating just to keep the hundred cals gap.



I'm actually experimenting with this rigth now. I'm increasing my calories 250 over maintenance on my workout days. My goal is to slowly build up my maintenance while putting on size and keeping bodyfat in check. The reason I'm doing this is I usually put on too much fat when I try to go all out on a bulking cycle. I've only been doing this for 2 weeks so I can't give you any feedback.


Thanks JasonL

If you properly time the insulin responses/carb intake, get enough protein, and keep calories close to maintance I think it should work (but then again I don't really know). What's your macronutrient breakdown/eating schedule? Good luck and keep us posted on the results! (and big up to my ancestral homeland).

So Bulk without the Bulk: 1 Conservative Minnesotan 'maybe' and 1 Down South Louisianan 'yes'. Any more?


Thanks Anti Liberal
Tried to send this to you from work but looks like it didn't go through (Damn corporate firewalls)

I guess my focus is, as you say 'just a really long term look at it'. To me the iron game is a marathon and not a sprint. It represents a year round commitment to an active healthy lifestyle. As such, something has always bothered me about the vast extremes and lack of moderation in most cutting/bulking phases. I'd rather build it slowly the right way rather than balloon way up and then come way down (unless of course that still is the best way to do it).

So I'll chalk that up as one Conservative Minnesotan 'maybe' (nothing but love). Any other opinions?



My macronutrient breakdown right now is 40P/30C/30f. My meals are as follows:

1) P+C
2) P+F
3) Smaller P+C
4) P+F
5) P+F
6) 2 scoops Surge
7) P+C

I noticed you screen name when I first posted. Are you from Louisiana and if so, where from?


Creoleking, the best way to do it (if your goal is lifetime) is slow.

Only reason people do it fast is because they dont want to wait around, or maybe they just want to get up to a higher level quicker and then go it slow from there.
I would say i'm more of the latter type.

Everyone knows that "adding tons quick and cutting way down" isnt the best way about it, it's just one of the only ways people know how to cram it into a short timeline.
Honestly aside from certain weight group restrictions or bodybuilders not all that many people really want to cut it all down. It just seems that way because there is always new people coming into the scene who are starting at overweight points and want to cut it down a bit.


Ancestral homeland. My dad's family is from New Orleans in the Black/French way of things. They've been in Southern California since the early 1900's though and everyone's lost the language. We get mistaken for Mexican or Italian out here cause we're all very light. I want to get out there some day though as I've never even been.

Those macro ratios sound about like what I was thinking. Please let us know how it goes.



I agree that slow and steady will win the race but I guess what I'm questioning here is whether or not taking a moderate approach to caloric intake and the cutting/bulking phases necessary means slower progress. Could it just be a better, healthier, more efficient way of getting to the same point in the same amount of time (or even in less time)?

Obviously if your window of opportunity to grow muscle is 8 weeks then of course you will gain more MUSLCLE by going on a traditional bulking plan (saying nothing about fat gains). But if your window of reference is say 5 years and your goal is to get the best physique possible between now and then, maybe you should have avoided that bulking phase altogether and would have come out BETTER in LESS time, using more moderate cycles. See what I'm saying?


Creoleking, yes a slower progression to a 5 year goal may be the best way.

I'm merely pointing out that gauging a few hundred cals above maintenance wont be that easy to do, and would require you keeping very good track of everything you do.
And, i dare say that in many people I coudl foresee that going only a few hundred above will merely result in their bodies adapting to that level and not gaining at all, forcing you to increase cals consistently.
I mean when we are talking about a maintenance (including exercise calcs) of say 4000 cals, a few hundred isnt a big percentage and might just be absorbed into the system with no change.

I think one of the reasons for going with a +500 cals increase or more is the body can't adapt to it that quickly and is required to grow to do so.

I don't know, maybe i'm weird or over simplifying it, but I think something like 200 cals would just get "lost" in there and no change would occur.


Maybe so and you're right, it would require good record keeping. Your point on the adaptation principle is also a good one and is definitely a valid reason for cycling diets and overfeeding by 500+ cals from time to time. Otherwise the body might just adapt and stop growing.

Anybody else experiment with a lower calorie bulk phase?



I think one thing you're leaving out is that if you're bulking, "maintenance" should be changing constantly, as your maintenance intake is a function of your LBM, and if that's growing, so should maintenance caloric intake.

Also, can we clarify the question? Are you talking about gaining muscle without gaining bodyfat percentage points or gaining muscle without gaining bodyfat? To make it easier, let me know which option you're most interested in here. The person starts out at 200lbs (180 LBM, 20 FM).

A) The person just goes up to 200 LBM while staying at 20 FM, thus lowering body fat percentage by increasing muscle mass.

B) The person goes up to 200 LBM and 22.2 LBM, thus increasing both fat and muscle, bot not changing body fat percentage.

C) The person changes to 190 LBM and 10 FM, thus losing body fat percentage while still bulking.

D) The person rises to 185 LBM and lowers to 10 FM, thus reducing body fat percentage and total weight while bulking.

If it's something else, please explain. I just want to make sure we're all talking about the same thing.

Along these lines, a thought in terms of nutrition: Is it possible then to 'bulk' (meaning here to induce hypertrophy but not necessarily gain body weight) WITHOUT consuming calories above maintenance?

You can't gain muscle without gaining weight.. muscle weighs something! Damn those laws of thermodynamics...



I agree, if you are gaining weight/muscle/fat your maintenance will definitely have to go up to accommodate the increased energy demands. And any of your options would be great as far as I'm concerned! What I'm trying to AVOID is what happens to me and most other people during a bulking phase, call it option E:

200 LBM and 25 FM thus increasing both fat and muscle and INCREASING body fat %

I'm assuming it's the over consumption of calories that is the culprit in most of our E type bulking outcomes and want a remedy. I guess I am focused more on body composition and fat % points but I am aware that long term as you keep adding muscle your scale weight will go up (which is of course no problem it's the fat that's a problem).

In the end it's all about building muscle and my question is from a physiologically perspective do you need to consume calories significantly over maintenance (knowing this may lead to fat gains)in order to build muscle?

Dave in a vacuum you're right but as Jared points out, you can gain muscle and lose scale weight if fat mass simultaneously decreases at a rate greater than your muscle gain.


Sorry to side track the topic a little, but how long do some of you stay on a bulking cycle? If your gaining muscle to you just keep going or do you go by bodyfat or a set number of weeks before you return to maintenance calories?


Depending on your goals and where you're currently at, I'm generally in favor of small mini cycles of say 4-8 weeks of cutting followed by 4-8 weeks of bulking. This is of course assuming that you don't start off as a fat or skinny bastard in which case the cutting/bulking phase needs to last until you get to a reasonable BF % (a lot of people use 12% as a maximum 'fat point' and 5% as a max 'skinny point' but it all depends on the individual and their goals).

This post is really me trying to see who else out there uses these moderate mini phases as opposed to the all out 6 month super bulk phase followed by the 3 month super cut phase in which calories and macro nutrient ratios swing wildly from one side of the pendulum to the other. I think smaller more frequent swings are better both in terms of overall health and in terms of long term progress (especially in light of the adaptation principle).