Q: Seems like more and more people are “bulking,” I guess I'm wondering if I'm missing out on some hidden benefit of it. I get that it helps to put on muscle (muscle building), but I don't think I would ever see the need for it in my life. What is the point of bulking? It almost seems like another yo-yo dieting trap. I mean, I guess I understand for a person that's skinny, or at goal weight, but I'm a lot farther away from my goal than I'd like to be, and can't imagine purposely putting on extra weight. What type of person (other than a bodybuilder, lol) should consider bulking or muscle building?
A: Bulking (eating above maintenance, while lifting heavy weights) can be beneficial to a variety of people, not just the skinny ones, lol. When I first began my “bulk/cut” cycles, I wasn't at goal weight either (although I'd be the first to admit, that it may have been a lot easier if I was). But, learning the the benefits of it, and reaching a certain point in my weight loss, I decided to go ahead and go for it, for several reasons:
- The most obvious benefit is to add muscle mass, since muscle building cannot take place in a caloric deficit.
- Eating in a caloric deficit for a long period of time, or doing excessive cardio can begin to eat away at precious muscle mass – doing an occasional bulk, can help to rebuild any lost muscle.
- Long term deficit eating can also lower BMR, eating more will help to raise it, as will adding more muscle. Most people come out of a bulk being able to lose weight at a higher cal level than they previously did, as their maintenance level has increased. (The longer the bulk, the more our body adjusts to higher cal levels = higher BMR…The longer the deficit, the more our bodies adjust to lower cal levels = lower BMR)
- Bulking, or even just eating at maintenance, allows the mind and body to recover from the stresses of deficit eating, and gives a mental break to the person who has been dieting for a while.
Bulking can help whether you're planning on competing in a fitness competition, want to look muscular/”ripped” when you get to your goal weight, have reached a plateau, or just want to increase your metabolism. Many people get burned out or reach plateaus after eating in a deficit for a long time. They reach a point where nothing is working, they can no longer safely reduce cals, or maybe they are just tired of surviving on so little cals. This is when a metabolism reset is usually done: where a person has to increase their cals, and stay there for a while, until the body readjusts to the higher cal level (thus, creating a new maintenance). Then they can start to lose at a higher cal level. Using this time to also bulk (add muscle while eating in the surplus) can make it a bit more purposeful for the person, rather than just eating more with no other goals (which can be a tough mental battle for a person who is trying to lose weight). It gives a new goal, to take the person's mind off of “I'm trying to gain weight on purpose, am I insane?!” and gives those extra calories a job to do: build muscle. The building of muscle will also increase the ones metabolism, as the muscle continues to burn cals long after the reset has ended. Thus making the metabolism reset process dual purpose, and a little easier to stick to.
So a person that is not at goal weight can do smaller “mini” bulks along the way to help keep metabolism raised, and to add a little more muscle insurance to what will be seen as the fat is melted away (most women notoriously under-estimate the amount of muscle they carry). Bulking can also be used for the person that is reaching/at goal weight, but not getting the “cut” that they thought they'd have at goal. Since we can't cut what isn't there, this usually means that there is not enough muscle there to “tone.” Bulk/cut cycles allows the opportunity to build the muscle, then go back to “cutting,” repeating until the desired result is reached. For all parties involved, bulking can give that added benefit of a higher metabolism and maintenance level cals.
Q: So…it is like yo-yoing? I just can't imagine purposely putting weight back on, when I've worked this hard to get it off! I just can't wrap my head around this. It sounds crazy..
A: I would not recommend bulking to anyone that is not ready for it mentally, the same way I would not recommend it to an obese person (unless, they've been under-eating for a while & have gone into starvation mode, in which case a serious metabolism reset is needed). I always tell people that when it's time to bulk, you'll just “know.” It's hard to describe it any other way. Just know what the benefits are, and give yourself enough time to grasp it mentally before diving in. The results are definitely well worth it, but you have to know why you're doing it and what you're in for. Bulk/cut is not like yo-yoing, because the “gain” part of yo-yoing is usually unplanned and out of control. The bulking process is planned, you give yourself boundaries, and because you're adding muscle to your frame, the weight comes on in completely different proportions. Your body comes out looking better after every cut cycle, and you're not killing yourself to get results that will just go by the wayside as soon as you eat “normal” again, due to the increased metabolism. A bulk is not about packing on the pounds, it is about packing on the muscle. Every move is planned, as precise as you allow it to be, and, when done with incredible precision, fat gain is minimal. Yo-yoing, usually leaves you in worse shape after each “round.” Bulk/cut is quite the opposite.