T Nation

Follow-up to Mufasa's Reasonable Bodyfat Post Last Week

The thread last week regarding whether it is feasible to maintain a low bodyfat percentage year round while still gaining mass developed into a great thread. In fact, it was so great that I’ve been giving it a lot more thought since it’s “passing.” The topic that has been foremost in my thoughts has been the concept of ideal bodyfat, both from a percentage and appearance perspective. I gathered from last week’s thread (and Mufasa’s cameo on Reader Mail!) that it is virtually impossible to remain shredded while packing on mass. Obviously, this is greatly influenced my a myriad of factors (diet, genetics, training, rest, etc.), so we certainly tend to stumble across the gray area of “what will work for everyone” versus “what will work for some people.” As such, I’ve been trying to determine whether there is any sort of universal measure that can be used to recognize how much fat gain is too much during a mass cycle. At what point do we stop being dedicated bodybuilders/powerlifters and turn into full-fledged lard asses? I’m not sure if there is an ideal bodyfat percentage, as, for example, one guy can be shredded at 10% while another at 10% can be smooth. I remember reading that Arnold once said that you were no longer a bodybuilder when you lost sight of your intercostals. Even in the pro ranks, there are differing points of view. I’ve read that some guys like Kevin Levrone and Shawn Ray only fluctuate about 10 lbs. in either direction between contest and off-season. Then, on the other hand, Lee Priest looks more like the Pillsbury Doughboy when he’s not about to compete. I doubt that there is one perfect answer to my question, but you never know what a bunch of T-Men can come up with when they put their heads together on something. With that in mind, what does everyone use as their measure, either qualitatively or quantitatively, of adding too much fat?

As for how much fat you can allow yourself to gain, it really depends on how much mass you want to put on. Once you have reached and learned how to maintain your optimal body composition, you need to set a goal to gain a certain amount of mass without significant fat gain. This obviously comes easier for some than others. Assuming that the primary reason why someone has low bodyfat is to show off the abs, I think the best measure to keep track of is the abdominal skinfold. I remember that Dan Duchaine wrote that he would diet until his waking body temp had dropped 1 degree and would bulk until his abdominal skinfold increased by 1 mm. One mm is a very small increase, and maybe one could allow 2, 3, or even 4 mm increase, but I think a smaller number would be better. The most important key was to use short cycles, maybe a max of 3 weeks while bulking or else too much fat accumulation would occur.

On another note, one could use their "optimal" body comp as the middle ground. Say one person wanted to maintain 8% body fat because it was comfortable and the abs showed up nicely. You could drop down to 7% (losing 1-2 lbs is all that would take) and then do a bulking cycle where you might go up to 9%. Anyway, setting the optimal body comp in the middle of these short cycles would allow one to spend more time at the optimal body comp while adding muscle. This might be a bit easier than if you start at 8% and bulk up to 10% and then come back down and so on. Doing this, you can always come back to what is your ideal body comp, but never really get to live with it for any period of time. Just some ideas.

Eric: Thanks for the props! Now…I’ve got to give some props right back to another member of our community, Bob Kennedy. Bob gave perhaps the best guidlines I’ve seen for determining “how much is too much” fat to gain while on a mass cycle. Ultimately, I think that the concensus is that SOME fat will be gained, but that it DOES NOT have to be to some of the extremes we often see.


Well…to quote Bob:


“I don’t tend to think of “acceptable” fat gain in terms of percentages; rather, I tend to think of it in terms of ratios. Specifically, when I’m trying to bulk up, I do it best by keeping the muscle: fat gain ratio at around 2.5:1 (in other words, 1 lb. of fat gained for every 2.5 lbs. of muscle gained). For me, this works very well, and, although I believe that were I to allow a greater amount of fat gain (e.g., 2:1 or even 1.5:1) I would also gain muscle a bit faster, I simply don’t like my body image if I go above 11% bodyfat (I stay between 7% and 11%). Further, I know from bitter experience that taking my bodyfat too high only means that the necessary fat loss will be far more difficult than if I’d kept my patience and limited my gains.”


These were simply outstanding guidelines and ones that I use. I hope Bob still scans the Forum. Perhaps he can give us some furthur insights. That would be GREAT!

I think that these two are both GREAT approaches! Again…yes…some fat will be gained…but not extreme amounts…

Kudos to all the t-maggers up in here.
Another great thread, and I hope this one continues the frank discussion of last week
For me personally, I always like to have the abs showing somewhat…thus, like the above mentioned approaches, I fluctuate between 7-9% when bulking…i use a statistical approach where i judge my morning “visual” on a scale of 1-5 (five being totally ripped, or around 4-5% body fat)…once in the 3 or lower range for morning “visuals” as i call them, its time to diet down. I think it is overrated to get “fat” while bulking…if you diet down to a real low-level of body fat, you gain make some pretty good mass gains without gaining much fat in the first place due to your leaness.


On another note, how low has everyone been?..i myself can honestly say i was down in the neighborhood of 4% ish and was gettng almost"sick"…this back when i hadn’t read a damn thing on bb’ing except the fda’s 2,000 calorie a day requirement, figuring i would get both jacked and ripped on this amount of calories a day…I never could understand why i was always f&*(^( hungry. I think the body does have a genetic “set point” and if you stay at the low leves of bf long enough, you might be able to alter that…the thing is, we all don’t want to compromise our “lean gains”
On a final note, I Just did a lit review to see how the body partitions fat vs. protein while dieting, and i came across a rather sweet article,which adds to and extrapolates on teh other literature which suggests that the lower body fat to begin with, the more muscle lost…I’ll post the reference as soon as i get back to my casa

Lets get everybody on board this one, becuase it is a very important post.
Peace out

Please don’t include powerlifters in this. Most powerlifters are no way near ripped, and certainly not in the heavier weight classes. If we’re at 15% I think we’re pretty happy. All we care about is how much we lift, not what we look like.

Short bulking cycles have never worked to well for me, due to my training cycles have a certain lag at the beginning of a cycle to increase intensity. As such I tend to go on a several months bulking cycle, limiting how much I gain (fat)by comfort and health, i.e am I still as athletic at this higher weight, or is my blood pressure still in reasonable (for me) levels. I am to keep my bodyfat at around 12% inbetween major bulking cycles, then go on a 8-12 week diet as competitions approach, but between bulking cycles my diet phases are about 3 weeks or so.