Q: So I've been tossing around the idea of bulking to build muscle, and it's got my mind spinning, lol.. That just seems crazy. Not there mentally yet… I have lost SO much weight, and the thought of putting on more just doesn't sit right w/me yet, I guess. I know that you believe that you have to build muscle before you can cut/define it, but I honestly beg to differ, as I've never “bulked” and I know I see muscles. I've been doing most of the other things that you usually talk about: not starving myself (1800+ cals for deficit), lifting really heavy, moderate cardio here and there. And, because I'm still in a slight deficit, the scale keeps going down!
But most of all, I have gained so much definition…I would hate to lose what I have by going into a bulk…I am starting to get a headache with trying to figure out what I need to be doing. My goal is not so much the weight loss, as it is fitting back into my size 4 and looking toned, you know. I am almost there…I got on my smallest 6's so I know I am a hair away from my 4 slacks…at that point, I just want to be cut you know what I mean. So, is there a loophole in your “eat at surplus to gain muscle” argument, or am I missing something/the exception to the rule?
A: A bigger person actually carries a larger amount of muscle mass,* naturally (the bigger the person, the more muscle). This is due to the fact that regular everyday movements (i.e. getting up out of a chair, pushing yourself out of bed in the AM, picking up your child) are essentially strength training movements (squats, tricep press, deadlift/bicep curl) due to the extra mass on the frame adding “weight” to the movement. The problem is there also is an extremely high ratio of fat covering that muscle (as a person who has been “bulking” – eating at surplus/lifting in low reps with high weight– might develop some fat along with the muscle).
So because you started this journey at such a high weight, and have kept weight training in the mix, technically what you've been doing is “cutting.” You're just doing it properly by eating right (1800 cals to lose is AWESOME, btw) and keeping heavy weight training involved. This is more ideal than the person that just slashes cals to the bare minimum, and ODs on cardio (who would plow through their muscle store a bit more quickly).
Keys to remember:
- to build muscle (aka bulk) = eat at slight surplus, lower the reps, up the weights, cardio optional
- to lose fat while maintaining/defining muscle (aka cut) = eat at a slight deficit, continuing to lift heavy, adding in cardio as needed
So what you're doing now, is what I recommend for most people starting from a much higher weight. Eating just under maintenance, but still lifting heavy and consistently (cutting) until getting down to a more comfortable weight range (or until newbie gains cease), before beginning bulk/cut cycles. The exception to this is if a person has gone into starvation mode from starting this path on a “biggest loser” mission (hours of cardio/huge calorie deficit), and has hit a plateau. I would recommend that person to do a metabolism reset/mini bulk before resuming cutting at much a slower rate (less cardio/higher cals than before).
You'll know when the time comes to bulk, when you've ceased getting any beginner gains. But, as long as you're getting the definition, etc that you seek, you're fine. It's hard to describe until it happens, but you just know.
The exception to this, would be the completely sedentary obese person, who, do to non-movement has experienced extreme muscle atrophy.