T Nation

Transitioning from Bulking to Cutting - Best Method?


Hi guys, i’m currently bulking on 3200 cals looking to drop down to 1800 cals to cut (i’ve found this most effective in the past).

what is the most effective way of dropping the cals to not lose muscle - is it OK to just drop down by cals 700/wk over 2 weeks or does it need to be slower than that? I’m currently 82kg, 5ft9, something like 17% bf.

Update: All, thanks for the comments. To answer a few questions;.

@JFG - yes, this is the goal, but I thought if your BF gets too high it is harder to put on muscle i.e. it is better to not get too fat?

@pitbill There is some science behind my numbers - I’ve tried 2500 cals before to get leaner and quite simply nothing happened. At 1800 previously I was able to lose body fat quite fast (albeit got smaller over all) but I think I went for a bit too long.

similarly wit the 3200 number, that is the lowest amount of cals I’ve seen to make measurable progress (i.e. +0.5kg/mnth) Although it is obvious that some of this is fat, hence why I have not gone higher than this.

@ Fletch My diet is fairly set during the week and clean-ish. the cals are a combo of oats, milk, chicken, tuna, rice, vegetables (primarily onion, peas, broccoli, beans), whey, some (not too much) pasta, sweet potato, white potato. Weekend I aim for the same macros, but throw in a bit more of a cheat i.e. some bread, peanut butter, crumbed chicken.

@Badger - Will have to look into this program, as per previous comments have not had that much success losing fat on 2500+ cals, but maybe I have not tried this approach


Nothing makes sense.

You should aim for greatness instead.

Ever thought of adding muscle mass instead?


Personally, I would make the smallest adjustment possible whilst still losing weight/fat, then when progress stalls make another adjustment, either with the subtraction of calories or addition of cardio. Make the smallest change possible while still having an effect, therefore when you stall you still have plenty of calories to cut from. Just my .02 cents.


What does bulking mean to you?

What kinds of foods make that 3200 calories?

Typically, people start ‘bulking’ by going 500 calories over maintenance and adjust from there. Adjustments might be based on getting a little too soft too fast so 500 cal might be too much. Or they’re not gaining any muscle so they have to bump up the cals a bit more.

The same is true for ‘cutting’ except vice versa.

I don’t like the term bulking because when I hear that term, it’s typically by people trying to justify why they can eat a dozen donuts and have haagan daaz before bed.

I’m just trying to make sure that’s not you.

If it is, the first thing you should do is cut out the foods you know for an absolute fact are bad for you.


One problem is I don’t know how many calories you are burning. If you suddenly eat a lot less than you are burning, your body will think something is actually wrong with your environment and try holding onto fat, “thinking” that there is a shortage of food.

I agree with who said you should cut out the junk food first and see what happens with that. I also had luck with the 21 day squat challenge: I squatted every day (alternating days of heavy and light squats) and while I gained 7kg I was complimented for losing weight. I also recently read on this website that broccoli and cauliflower have a nutrient that prevents other chemicals from blocking muscle growth, so add more of them to your diet.


Yeah slashing your food will downgrade your metabolic rate.
-Keep the calories the same and get on a fatloss program that incorporates heavy lifting…


Thanks guys added some edits to answer some of the questions


First, you want to get away from the bulk/cut cycle. Next time you get lean, stay that way and just be in a perpetual “micro-bulk” where you’re in a slight calorie surplus for the long haul. Have a limit in inches you’re willing to let your waist go, and taper back when it reaches that level. In addition to the waist measurements, I do a 7 point caliper test every few days to watch my bodyfat levels. When it’s gone up a percent or two, I taper my calories back, or do a few days in a deficit. So the calorie amounts are fluctuating, but the bottom line is I like to see the scale trend upward very slowly while maintaining my summer body as well as I can. That equals muscle gain/retention. When I hit 8% body fat and 30 inch waist this spring, I want to see a higher scale number than the same time last year – even if it’s one or two pounds. Actually, at my age I’ll be happy if I just hold on to the muscle I have.

As far as your original question goes, I always give the same advice. If you’re goal is to cut, then find a staple for your diet which consists of the lowest calorie to highest protein ratio. For me, that’s cod and egg whites (with some whole eggs also). I don’t think it’s a weird thing to say keeping your protein intake high while staying within your calorie limits for weight loss are key.

and here’s another thing…eating clean will get you there but may drive you crazy. The reason I like cod and eggs, is it fills most of my daily protein requirements and allows me to fill out my calories with some enjoyable foods. I like to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich almost every day and wouldn’t make it through dieting if I deprived myself. So eating all clean foods aren’t necessary for getting ripped, it just makes it so you don’t have to track as strictly. But strict tracking will allow for some bad stuff, as long as they’re not totally empty calories.

Flexible dieting, basically. It looks like you know what you’re doing but I thought it might be helpful to get some extra input from someone who has been experimenting with this for a few years and is now in total control of weight gain/loss.


This is how I feel as well. Unless someone is constantly prepping for shows or photoshoots and needs to “peak” at some perfect combination of muscle mass/leanness (a look they are just passing through, not maintaining) why is this your strategy? Have you ever seen anyone have longterm positive results by drastically swinging calorie intake regularly? You’ll do better with consistency and minor caloric alterations, rather than complete wholesale changes.


Thanks guys. What would typically be the change in calories between gaining and cutting in the way you describe?

The reason i opted for this is because typically in the 2300-2800cal band i really dont change at all… last time when i dropped down to 1800, i was able to notice getting leaner month on month and similar at 3200 getting bigger (although fatter as well)


At no point have I seen any info about your physical activity level. Without knowing if your training 5 days a week with 2 conditioning sessions or if your sitting on your arse 7 days a week it’s pretty hard to give you dieting advice that’s gonna work.

What a typical weeks training look like?
daily activity level?
active job?
Walk much?

Food is not the only variable, if you seem to have found a point at which you neither lose nor gain weight, I would maintain that level and add some activity for a few weeks first until you stop seeing progress. Then reassess if it’s easier to drop calories or add more conditioning.

the other option is to keep your calories high and increase your conditioning, make your training better, but again depends what your currently doing.


If you know your calorie intake (and it looks like you do) then start with about 500 over what you believe to be maintenance. First thing to do is get lean, so stay the course for now and keep calories in a place where you notice consistent fat loss without dropping too much too quickly. What I’ve found is that from a lean state, my body is more “armor-plated” against fat gain and will allow for playing with numbers for gaining. I’m not afraid of a little fat gain but there’s no way I’ll be going back to my usual winter body with a pudgy midsection.

You have to have the long game mentality and realize there’s going to be trial and error before you find the right amount of calories for the right kind of weight gain. I’ve tried the quick way, and I’ve accepted that it should be more like watching paint dry.


I train 5-6 days a week, typically 20-24 sets per session in the 8-12 rep range.
I cycle ~20mins x 4 days per week, walk 30mins x 2 days per week and usually play tennis (i.e. intermittent sprinting) 30 mins 1 day per week. My job is an office job though so not active there.

assuming my maintenance is circa 2500 cals, is +500 for increasing size (i.e. 3000) and -500 for reducing (i.e. 2000) really that extreme?



Don’t know your age, or body type, but that is a fair level of activity and I would assume you could get away with more than 2000 kcals a day. You could also consider carb/calorie cycling rather than a steady state calorie level. As I said, depends on your body type.


29 and the body type where changes are verryyy slow.

Ok so if i drop to say 2200kcals to lean does this seem appropiate without risking muscle loss?