Episode 67 – Should You Cut Before You Bulk?

Key Topics Covered

Personal Preference 

Obviously, personal preference matters more than anything else. If somebody either has no interest in getting leaner OR they are in a sport where size is really important (e.g. lineman in NFL), then it makes sense to bulk without cutting, regardless of whatever approach would be optimal. 

Plus, vice verse if somebody is in a sport or generally prefers to be larger then this question doesn’t matter – that’s what we’d choose.

P-Ratio Debate 

  • There is a claim that having a higher BF % makes it harder to build muscle due to a higher level of insulin resistance 
  • Stronger by science have way more information on this topic, so if you want to check them out we do recommend

P-ratios What is it? 

  • A P-ratio is a change in fat-free mass divided by the change in total body mass.  
  • So basically an easy way to put a scoring system on how much body fat versus lean mass had been gained during a bulking phase.  
    • A high P-ratio = You have put on weight with minimal fat gain  
    • A low P-ratio = You have put on weight but with substantial fat gain  
  • The theory is that being leaner at the start of a bulk can result in a higher p-ratio aka better body composition outcomes 

Where did this theory start? 

This overall theory stemmed from a review by Forbes in 1987. Which was a research review looking at body composition changes of people who were in an extended calorie surplus and gaining weight.  

BUT lots of issues with this review  

  • In populations that did not do resistance training  
  • Included studies in recovery anorexia patients  
  •  Other data came from weight regain studies after a starvation diet and extreme, rapid weight loss. 
  • So generally just not representative of the people we are talking about  

Counter arguments 

  1. There are so many examples of people with high body fat percentages gaining muscle incredibly well. Super heavy-weight powerlifters are an example. NFL linemen are another example.  
  2. We also don’t see a lack of lean mass in obese people, in fact we see higher levels of lean mass in people with a significant amount of body fat. Meaning that a calorie surplus is one of the biggest factors in lean mass gains, not starting body fat levels.  
  3. Research in sumo athletes – a paper published in 1999 compared the body composition of sumo athletes across four different levels of competition. What this research found was that the lowest ranking competitive class had similar body fat percentages to the highest ranking class even though the higher ranking class was on average more than 50kgs heavier.  

But, you could also argue on the other side that having an excessive amount of body fat reduces your work capacity, therefore reducing the stimulus which can be provided the muscle, and therefore reduce your ability to gain lean mass effectively. 

So whilst I don’t believe insulin has a lot to do with this debate, I do see some pros from the other side.  

Thoughts on standard advice of “if you are new to lifting you should just bulk for a year and not even think about cutting” 

  • This advice comes from a good place and can make sense in a lot of cases. 
  • When you are new to lifting, it is easiest to make great muscle gains, so you can see why people would encourage being in a surplus for this phase. 
  • The best thing it does is it encourages people to commit to a phase for an extended period of time vs the alternative of chopping and changing every few weeks.  
  • The part where it falls apart is just that it is a blanket statement. What if somebody is at a higher body fat percentage than they want to be, or higher than would be ideal for their sport? A calorie surplus for a long period of time going to take them further away from their goal  

How Lean Should You Be Before You Start a Bulk? 

  • In my opinion, you should not only be as lean as you comfortably want to be, it probably makes sense to be a few % lower in terms of body fat percentage, prior to a bulk. 
  • Since BF accumulation is likely going to happen over an extended bulking phase 
  • If you are already starting at the top end of where you are comfortable it won’t give you a lot of leeway to work with  

Relevant Links/Resources

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