Although combining bulking and cutting cycles is the best technique to get a ripped physique over time, it only works if done correctly. The single most essential skill you need to acquire to be successful in bodybuilding is to know when to stop bulking.
Even if consuming more food and working out more appears to be the most straightforward way to put on muscle, you’d be surprised at how few people know how to do it properly.
You might have heard that a bulking phase should last for 4–8 months; while this is true, it doesn’t summarize how long you should do it for, as everybody is unique, and different parameters are required to stop you from overbulking.
The following is a comprehensive rundown of the bulking and cutting plan that will result in the quickest increase in muscle mass as well as the most rapid reduction of body fat, all while allowing you to maintain a level of health that is at least passable during the process.
Table of Contents:
How To Measure Your Bulk?
In order to figure out when to stop bulking, you will have to start measuring how much you have bulked up; this can be done by measuring your body fat percentage instead of counting days.
Body Fat Percentage – The percentage of fat in our body. The healthy range of body fat for men is anywhere between 8-19%. For women it is between 21-33%. Women’s range is greater than men’s due to the high demand put on the body during pregnancy.
Following are some ways to measure your Body Fat Percentage:
- The One-Site Calliper Measurement Method
Calipers are plastic measuring tools that are used to determine the thickness of the skin at various bodily sites (e.g., lower back, chest, arms, etc).
To determine your body fat percentage using skinfold calipers, you must measure the depth of your subcutaneous fat as well as the thickness of your skin at various locations on your body. After obtaining these measurements, you input them into a mathematical formula that uses them to estimate your body fat percentage.
Here’s how to do it step-by-step:
- Pinch the suprailiac skin (placed 5cm above the hip bone) by positioning your thumb and fingers about two inches apart on your body and pressing them deeply into your flesh.
- Pull the skinfold by squeezing your fingers together and then gently pulling it away from your body.
- Place the caliper points in the middle and perpendicular to the skinfold, about an inch to the side of where your fingers are touching your skin; compress the caliper until it sounds.
- Compare your results with reading online, i.e., here.
The Standard error deviation for calipers is 3-5%.
So, if you get an estimated 12%, then your true body fat can be anywhere from 12-18%.
- The US Navy Body Calculator
The Navy’s body fat calculator makes use of the U.S. fitness formula used to determine a person’s body fat percentage. Simply enter your gender, weight, height, waist measurement, and neck circumference, and the calculator will handle the rest.
It should not come as a surprise that this calculator is accurate (within 1-3 percentage points), as research has shown that waist circumference strongly correlates with body fat percentage.
- The “Visual Assessment” Method
A less scientific but surprisingly accurate method for assessing a person’s body fat percentage is “how you look in the mirror.”
The key is to take pictures FIRST THING IN THE MORNING WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE A PUMP ON.
Additionally, you should take all of your photographs under identical lighting conditions so that there are no discrepancies between them. When you have several images, you can place them next to one another and compare them to the following chart:
When to Stop Bulking?
Once you have calculated your body fat percentage, you can decide when to stop bulking and start cutting.
15% to 17% body fat is ideal to stop bulking and start cutting because, above that, your body will start to face some harmful effects of sudden weight gain.
Why Shouldn’t You Bulk More Than 15% Body Fat?
Your P-ratio, also known as your partitioning ratio, which refers to the allocation of muscle to fat gained during a bulk, is at its ideal level when your body fat percentage is below 15%.
When you reach a higher percentage of fat in your body, your body shifts into a different gear, and you become more prone to gaining fat (rather than muscle mass). This means that you will need to cut for a longer period and will likely lose the additional muscle mass you gained.
Low Levels of Testosterone
When you have a higher amount of body fat, your testosterone levels will naturally drop. This makes it more difficult to create muscle, which is especially problematic for more experienced weightlifters (above 50). Studies have also shown that “low levels of testosterone are frequently encountered in male obesity”.
Let’s face it, even though we act like we don’t care, we still want those six pack abs. However, exceeding your body fat percentage above 15% will result in you having little to no abdominal definition.
When you don’t have a lot of muscle definition, it might be difficult to perceive changes in your body composition, making it difficult to stay motivated.
And let’s not forget. Exceeding that 15 – 17% body fat percentage will make your cutting phase a lot harder.
Risk of Leptin Resistance
When your proportion of body fat grows too high when you are bulking, you run the risk of developing leptin resistance, which makes it more challenging to manage your hunger. Then you face the risk of overeating and dirty bulking, defined as gaining more than one pound per week by unhealthy means.
Hence, you should bulk till your body fat is around 15 percent. This way, you will keep looking shredded without facing any side effects of gaining weight rapidly.
When to Start a Cut Phase?
Cutting can be started when you reach your ideal body fat percentage (15% to 17%). However, it is preferred to slowly prepare your body for a cut phase.
In the first week, try cutting your calories to maintenance slowly by eating 50 to 70 calories less every day. Also, incorporate cardio in your workout to burn more calories.
In the Second week, you should be on your maintenance calories and keep your body there for about a week with increased workouts.
In the Third Week, you can start cutting your calories and hold back on those strenuous exercises.
Try starting your cut phase around the third and fourth week; suddenly shifting to a cut phase can cause the following side effects:
- Poor Sleep
- Random Burst of Hunger
- Lack of Motivation
- Mind Fog
These symptoms can stress the body, so it’s best to slowly transition to a cut phase.
When to Stop a Cut
You should Cut till your body fat percentage reaches 8%, as going anywhere below that can cause severe issues with the body. Once you’re lean, you can start bulking again and keep on repeating the process.
Why Shouldn’t Over Cut?
Every single human being has a minimum body fat percentage limit, beyond which their bodies cannot continue to be healthy and fully effective. This is often referred to as the biological set point for our body.
This limit for males is somewhere about 8% of their total body fat. Although some people can go a little lower and still feel well and be healthy, most of us are unable to do this due to our genetic makeup.
If you go below this range, you will likely experience bad health, extreme food focus, a decreased immune system, low energy, and a whole host of other mental and physical adverse health impacts.
That’s why we recommend staying above 8% body fat and only plan on going below that after discussing the details of your body with a medical physician.
Plan to Keep A Healthy Bulk and Cut Cycle
- First, Get lean; this is the first and most crucial step. If you want to maximize the amount of muscle you gain while also maintaining your health, the ideal starting point for your body fat percentage is between 8 and 10 percent. Try to maintain a body fat percentage of at least 8%.
- After attaining your ideal body fat percentage, you should start bulking with a calorie surplus equal to or greater than your rate of maximal muscle potential. Continue this routine until you have achieved 15% to 17% body fat. When you reach this higher stage, you have often lost the definition of all of your abdominal muscles.
- When you reach 15% to 17% body fat, you should begin cutting calories and continue doing so until you reach 8% to 10% once more.
- Repeat – Until you have attained your genetic potential or have reached a point where you are satisfied with your physical appearance.
Tips on Bulking
If you’re planning on bulking following are a few tips to make the journey a lot easier:
Bulk up Fast With Supplements
Supplements aren’t required for bulk, but they can make the process easier. They’re easy to take with you when you’re busy, quick if you don’t want to cook, and good when you’re in a hurry. Our favorite bulking supplements are protein bars, peanut butter, and mass gainers.
If you want to see the results of your bulk fast, then rest is a must. Recovery is often disregarded but plays a crucial part in healing your muscles and creating muscle mass. Overtraining can make your bulk last longer than you want it to.
This cannot be stressed more! Eight hours of sleep is a must if you want your body to function as you want it to. Lack of sleep creates stress in the body, producing stress hormone (cortisol), which can reverse the effects of your bulk.
Avoid junk and oily foods and stick with a healthy diet focused on protein and carbohydrates. Unhealthy eating habits persist and can be hard to control during a cut phase.
Tips on Cutting
Following are some tips to do a cut more efficiently:
Increase Your Calorie Deficit With Cardio
When you’re cutting, you’ll already know how many calories you need to eat less. By doing hard cardio, your metabolic rate will increase and burn even more calories. This means you’ll lose weight faster and can make up for days when you overeat and need to burn more calories.
Increase Your Water Intake
While water makes you look bloated, it has so many benefits that you must increase your intake throughout a cut. Water quells appetite. A few drinks with a smaller meal will help you feel full despite fewer calories.
Extra hydration gives you energy during workouts and keeps your metabolic system healthy, which is essential during a cut phase.
Maintain Protein And Fibre Intake
Protein is vital for building muscle, which enhances your metabolism and is required to keep your muscle mass when cutting calories. Fiber is an essential food group. Raw vegetables are a healthy way to snack and keep yourself feeling full.
Be Ready To Deal With Hunger
During a cut, you’re training your mind and your body. Be ready for a hunger spike and find ways to keep yourself full.
Related Article: Probiotics Vs. Prebiotics: What’s the Difference?
Okay, so let’s recap. When should you stop bulking and start cutting? You should stop bulking when your body fat percentage is at or below 15% to get the most out of your bulking and cutting cycles.
And on the other end of the spectrum, if you’re looking to participate in bodybuilding or fitness, you shouldn’t drop your body fat percentage below 8%.
If you care less about how you appear and more about how much strength you can get, then you should focus on gaining as much muscle as possible. For everyone else, 15-17% body fat should be the ABSOLUTE limit.
Perform a short “mini cut” for three to six weeks if you are in a position where you want to continue growing muscle but don’t want the additional fat gain that comes along with it.
Then you should continue with lean bulking. Now it’s time to hit the gym so you may reach your full potential and get ripped.