T Nation

Cut or Bulk?


Hey guys, I recently bulked from 165lb to 180lb over the last four months and now I've got thicker sides (love handles) and my stomach is getting flabby. This is causing me to want to cut, but I'm not sure if I should or not yet.

I put on a good amount of muscle since where I started but I'm still really small. Should I keep bulking to 190 or cut down to a better body fat percentage? Right now I'm estimating that I have around 20% body fat. My overall goal is to be much bigger than I am now but I also really do not want to put on much fat, as I have heard it is harder to lose it the more you have.

I'm 6'3, 180lb.

Any advice would be appreciated, thanks!


Welcome to the forum.

How you do it is more important than what you end up doing.

Some will argue that adding more muscle first will help with burning overall calories which will making losing fat easier. Some will argue that reducing fat to roughly 10% first will make it easier to pack on muscle. These can both be true if you take your time doing it and focus on quality diet, recovery and stress management. Minimizing weight gain/reduction to below 1 lb per week (using 0.5 and greater is generally used to observe a noticeable change) will help with a favorable body composition. As the rate increases, the body composition change will be less favorable depending on what you do. It’s certainly possible to use a higher rate and still favor muscle gain/retention if a person is very active, utilize very large workloads and the body can adapt fast enough but that isn’t common.

Decide what you want to do first. If you focus on quality while pushing your strength training, you can certainly gain weight that is mostly muscle and still maintain or lower your body fat percentage over time. I prioritize strength first and that’s why I would go with that approach. If I were in your shoes, I think it would be probable for me to gain 10 lbs in 20 weeks where at least 8 lbs were muscle and less than 2 lbs were fat. That would mean body fat percentage is the same or lower in the end. If doing everything with shitty quality, it might end up closer to 5lbs/5lbs (just throwing out numbers).


Thank you very much for the reply! I definitely want to gain muscle while trying to keep fat gain at an absolute minimum. However, if I could also achieve muscle growth while losing body fat, this would be ideal. I have heard this is both impossible and possible, so I am not sure which to believe.

Would eating at maintenance, or slightly lower than maintenance, help me lose fat and still gain muscle?


I feel like, as a beginner, your focus should be less on bulking or cutting and more on setting good habits. What are you eating these days? What did you eat yesterday as an example?


Yesterday I had to leave early, so I had a protein granola bar for breakfast. Then later in the day I had two grilled chicken breasts with a side of steamed veggies. Throughout the day I ate nuts and another granola bar. For dinner I fried two tilapia filets on top of a cup of pasta. I also drink a protein shake which is around 40g of protein along with 300 calories.


[quote]Watchtower22 wrote:
I recently bulked from 165lb to 180lb over the last four months[/quote]
In these same four months, what kind of strength progress have you seen? How have your numbers and/or reps moved on the big basic lifts?

And what does your training week look like?

What’s your long-term goal? “Much bigger without much fat” isn’t very specific.

I guaran-damn-tee that this is why you’re not seeing good progress. Yesterday, you had two small meals and some small snacks. I didn’t run the numbers, but if that was even 1500 calories I’d be surprised.

I’ll tell you right now, in the last four months you’ve definitely had more days like this than you realize, so your nutrition has been screwed from the start. You’re not only under-eating, but what you are eating simply isn’t appropriate for your goals. “I had no time” is no excuse when it takes 20 minutes once a week to boil two dozen eggs. Hard-boiled eggs are nature’s protein bar, comes with a wrapper and everything.


My numbers have gone up, though not as much as I’d like. I went from 115 to 135 on both bench and squat, but rows went up from around 110 to 140.

My training week is a split: Monday I work triceps, chest and shoulders. Tuesday I work biceps and back, then Wednesday is legs. Rest Thursday, then Friday Saturday and Sunday are push/pull/legs again.

My overall goal is to gain more lean muscle mass and have a lower body fat percentage. I really dislike how I look and want to change it to be more of something I can be proud of. Of course I also want to gain strength and increase my overall lifts.

During my bulk I was eating around 3100 calories and aiming for 170g protein. Lately I’ve been worried that I’ve gained too much fat so I bumped it down to aiming for 2400 calories. You’re definitely right, making more time for breakfast is something I need to discipline myself on.

Thanks again for the replies. Based on my goals, where do you guys think my calories should sit around?


Just to clarify, you gained 15lb over four months and your squat went up 20lb within the same time-span?


[quote]Watchtower22 wrote:
My numbers have gone up, though not as much as I’d like. I went from 115 to 135 on both bench and squat, but rows went up from around 110 to 140.

Assuming this is in lbs and not kilograms, you need to train a lot harder and/or smarter. Your squat in particular should be much higher.


[quote]magick wrote:
Just to clarify, you gained 15lb over four months and your squat went up 20lb within the same time-span?[/quote]

Yes, it’s something that I’ve been struggling with. I saw a trainer about my form for both bench and squat and he said my form was fine. He told me my back was weak and that was what was keeping my squat and bench from going up. After I added some more back training my numbers went up but not very fast. I walk out of the gym exhausted from pushing myself, but I will try to push harder.