Q: What do you think is the fastest way to build muscle without gaining excess fat?
A: Two words: cyclical bulking, my number-one nutrition strategy for bulking without getting fat!
Some time back I did a great deal of research and personal experimentation with traditional bulking/cutting phases vs. cyclical bulking, and what I learned was so dynamic that it led to the creation of my 21-Day Fast Mass Building Program. In fact, what I learned from the research and from my own experiences with cyclical bulking still informs my training today.
Cyclical bulking results in serious lean muscle mass gains in record time because it addresses some very common and very important problems with the traditional model.
The Problems of Traditional Bulking/Cutting Models
One of the most respected muscle-building experts in the world, Christian Thibaudeau, once said something so simple and yet so important: “You can add size or volume to a structure either by making the existing components bigger (hypertrophy), or by increasing the number of components (hyperplasia).”
Normally, when I say hypertrophy, I’m talking about muscle hypertrophy, but Thibaudeau was talking about making fat cells bigger. Your fat cells are flexible, a little bit like balloons. They will expand to a certain extent to make room for more fat storage; however, once they’re filled to capacity, if your body has more fat to store (because you’re overeating for an extended period), it creates new fat cells—that’s the hyperplasia. One of the problems here is that you can empty fat cells, but you can’t actually make them go away, unless you have surgery.
In traditional bulking protocols, bodybuilders add a great deal of calories to their intake for long stretches at a time, which results in the production of new fat cells. Having more fat cells to fill actually makes your body more efficient at—and prone to—storing fat.
That is part of the reason that when you’ve gone through two or three traditional bulking/cutting protocols, you start gaining more fat and less muscle mass each time—but only part of the reason. The other part involves what those bulking/cutting periods are doing to your hormones.
The Issues of Hormones and Traditional Bulking/Cutting Protocols
If you’ve ever gone through a bulk/cut cycle, you know that when you initially begin the cutting phase, fat just seems to peel right off your body. That’s because your body is literally primed to cut fat at that point. Your metabolic rate is higher, and so are your levels of leptin, ghrelin and the thyroid hormone T3.
The problem is that your body quickly adapts to your new caloric restriction and changes in your workout program during the cutting phase. That’s the reason your fat loss begins to wind down.
On the other hand, when you first come off a cutting phase and go back to bulking, you experience really nice gains very quickly. That’s partly because the restricted calories during cutting optimized your insulin sensitivity and spurred your body to begin partitioning calories to muscle building vs. fat storage. Unfortunately, your body will adapt again, and the gains will begin to taper off, just as your fat loss did during cutting.
Many studies have proven these facts about traditional bulking and cutting. One of the most famous and well-respected was done back in the ’80s by Forbes et al, “Hormonal Response to Overeating.” It found that when a group of adult women went from a maintenance ration of calories to a 1,200-to-1,500 daily surplus for three weeks, blood tests showed a significant and progressive increase in the three most important anabolic hormones—insulin, testosterone and insulinlike growth factor 1—that was matched by a significant gain in muscle weight.
The key to remember about all of this is that your body adapts quickly after you go from cutting to bulking and back again. For that reason the traditional model of bulking for 16 to 48 weeks and then cutting for another several months is flawed. You eventually plateau.
Taking Advantage of the Science
The awesome thing about cyclical bulking, using shorter periods of bulking and cutting, is that it takes advantage of the “transitional optimization” of your metabolism and anabolic hormone levels and then switches gears before your body adapts and the optimum levels are gone.
You go on a shorter bulking phase, taking advantage of the anabolic hormone levels present from your restricted-calorie diet and then get out before those hormones adapt to your increased calorie intake and your body starts creating new fat cells.
You follow with a shorter cutting phase, taking advantage of increased insulin sensitivity and maximized leptin and other hormone levels, but, again, you get out of the cutting phase before those levels begin to drop.
In essence, you’re “rebooting” your metabolic and hormone responses before you hit a plateau in both phases.
Working the Science
We designed the 21-Day Fast Mass Building Program around a two-week overload phase (the bulk) alternating with a one-week primer phase (the cut); however, I’ve learned a lot about manipulating metabolism and hormones since that program was created in 2005. It still works, and it still works well, but there are other protocols that also do very well.
I’ve gotten very good results and seen other guys get awesome results with two to 12 weeks of bulking and one to four weeks of cutting. The goal is always to maximize hormone levels and insulin sensitivity before they begin adapting to your new phase.
Of course, there are some guidelines that must be followed.
During bulking, you have to be taking in enough surplus calories, and they have to be quality calories, not junk. Don’t fall into the trap of eating everything you see just to pack in the calories. That’s going to lead to the creation of new fat cells, usually decreased insulin sensitivity because you’re messing with sugars and carbs, and more bodyfat gain than you’ll like.
During the cutting phase, you have to be cutting those calories—but not so low that your cortisol rises and your other anabolic hormones get out of whack. You still need to get enough protein as well so your body doesn’t start robbing from Peter (your muscles) to feed Paul.
The cutting and bulking cycles are flexible and should be, since everyone’s body is going to respond in a different time frame. Two weeks of bulking followed by one of cutting is optimal for some guys. For others it’s bulking eight weeks and cutting two.
As with most protocols, a little trial and error will let you know what works best for your body, but the results with cyclical bulking will surprise you no matter which combination it is.
To try out the 21-Day Fast Mass Building Program, visit www.21DayFastMassBuilding.com.
Editor’s note: Vince Del Monte packed on an amazing 40 pounds of muscle in 24 weeks. He’s know as “the Skinny Guy Savior” and has a number of courses to help you go from twig to big, including No Nonsense Muscle Building. For more information or to sign up for his free-tips newsletter, visit www.VinceDelMonteFitness.com. IM