Cut After Bulking Like a Pro

Key Points

  • A quality bulking cycle is essential and requires significant time and patience.

  • Use the bulking cycle to train hard and build muscle mass.

  • Don't neglect the maintenance phase between your cut after bulking for a mental and physical break.

  • Your diet should change when you cut after bulking, but not that much.

You've spent a lot of time bulking to pack on some well-deserved muscle. You might think immediately starting a cut after bulking would be a good idea. After all, you want to reveal the musculature you have.

This process also comes with many questions, especially if you want to meet your goals with exactitude. Learn how to cut after bulking the right way.

How Long Should You Cut After Bulking?

The length of your cut is a critical question to consider after ending a bulking cycle, and it's an essential part of the process of reaching your goals. As with every question involving human metabolism and behavior, there isn't a cut-and-dry answer, but there are points to consider to personalize your cutting time.

Bulking Cycle Length

The first thing to consider is the length of your bulking cycle. Building muscle is a sliding scale of difficulty. If you've never exercised a day in your life, the process will require minimal effort in a shorter amount of time. If you've been lifting for a few years, the amount of muscle you can gain in a given period lessens, just as the time it takes to achieve that muscle increases.

For many advanced trainees, regardless of gender, that year-long bulking cycle can net you between two to five pounds of muscle. That's in an entire year. Sounds discouraging, doesn't it?

Bodybuilding woman

In a perfect world, you would gain muscle and no fat on a bulking cycle, and you'd sport serious and noticeable definition by the end. Unfortunately, it's not a perfect world, and the laws of thermodynamics coupled with human metabolism dictate that with any weight gain, there will be some fat gain, too.

Such is the cost of energy balance. However, if your caloric surplus is too high, you'll gain more fat than you want if you spend a hefty portion of your time on muscle building.

It goes without saying that if your goal is to increase your muscle mass, your trending weight won't go down. If you were to graph your progress, the line ought to trend upward slowly, regardless of the regular ups and downs of your daily weight fluctuation.

To best monitor this trend, spend at least six months on your bulking phase. If you can handle it, aim for eight months. Experimenting with your caloric surplus is also a good idea.


Psychologically, bulking isn't fun for many people. After the bombardment of hundreds of marketing messages amounting to the same message of being skinny, cut, ripped, shredded, or any of the dozen synonyms for "low in body fat," actively opposing that mentality seems antithetical. While overcoming that is difficult, never lose sight that it's your life to live on your own terms.

Think in the scope of years, not months. The upside to long-term thinking for your bulking cycle is that the excess calories will give you more energy. With a good training program, much of that energy surplus will fuel the workouts.

If you can spend a good portion of your energy on your workouts, your muscle-building potential increases. The time to increase the reps and weights on exercises is during your bulking cycle. Use that energy wisely.

The Forgotten Phase

Bulking and cutting are commonplace, and like Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill for eternity, the bulking and cutting cycles might seem just as repetitive. However, there's a time when you can lift and get strong while not moving the needle on the scale.

Muscular woman lifting weights


Don't forget your maintenance phases. The maintenance phases are great, even fun! If your body stays where it's at while eating the same foods — and quantities — you're consuming and expending equal amounts of energy. Compared to a caloric deficit, this will benefit your training.

Using the maintenance period to get stronger in your lifts is a worthy goal. If you decide to gain more mass after a maintenance period, you'll have extra energy to push bigger weights around, too. If you decide to cut after a maintenance period, the extra strength is undeniable proof that you've built more muscle to reveal.

The Plan

So what can you do with all this information? Hopefully, you can integrate it into your training. It seems like a lot to consider, and the human body is complex. Using a template with some guidelines makes for an excellent reference point, at the very least.

Bulking Phase

Spend most of your time bulking because this phase is the priority, and the goal is to build muscle. Spend a lot of time here and use that time wisely. Begin with an eight-month time commitment.

Look for the upward trend on the scale, and don't forget to look in the mirror occasionally to see how you're filling out your clothes. A good rule of thumb for gym rats is that during a bulking phase, the goal is to look better in clothes compared to a cutting phase, where the goal is to look better in fewer clothes.

Muscular man with barbell


This is a flowing phase, and you can enter maintenance phases whenever you like. If your weight hasn't moved for a long time — congratulations! — you're in maintenance. If that sounds like a plateau, good. It is.

Your body wants homeostasis, not a continual cycle of gaining and losing weight. Nutrition researcher Alan Aragon refers to plateaus as "maintenance practice," which he explains "can last from several weeks to several months (or stay permanently if the goal is reached)."

Aragon also advises waiting when you hit a plateau to see if you can either push through it or if it's legitimate.


Cutting is the revelation of your desired physical form. How to cut after bulking on paper is easy, and all it takes is losing body fat. The caveat is that it takes an excellent bulking cycle to see the effort once it's time to lose fat.

Bulking phases work best when they last a long time, and maintenance phases are fluid and can last as long as you see fit. If you minimize your fat gain during the bulking phase, there's no reason the cutting phase should come even close to the time you spent bulking. If it does, then doing an inventory of your surplus calories is in order, and you get to try again.

Man exercising with ropes

The Template

This template is a helpful starting place, and you can personalize it to fit your goals. For the best results, enact a plan based on the following guidelines:

  • Spend 8 to 12 months in your bulking phase

  • Take the next 4 to 6 months to maintain what you've built

  • Depending on your goals and how aggressively you cut, take 3 to 4 months in your cutting phase

Other Considerations

The above guidelines work regardless of your gender or sex. The time commitment and dedication required hold true for everyone. However, women typically don't build the same quantities of muscle as men, and weight fluctuations also will differ in large part because of the different hormone levels and cycles.

Don't brush off your maintenance phases. Bulking immediately followed by cutting is like Sisyphus; you'll exert a lot of energy and accomplish nothing. If there were a "Glorified Yo-Yo Dieter" trophy, you'd win it since endless bulking and cutting without maintaining won't build the physique you want.

Learn to love your maintenance phases and treat them with the same reverence as you do your bulking and cutting phases.

The Diet

Bulking isn't a gorge fest. A lack of restraint leads to spinning your wheels via the endless cycle of gaining too much fat, experiencing the accompanying disappointment, and cutting. Pigging out puts you at the same starting line every time.

Despite that, you have to eat, and you have to eat more than you usually do. Experiencing some discomfort is part of the process. During a cut, the discomfort comes from the inevitable hunger that comes with a deficit of calories. During a bulk, it comes from eating more than you usually do.

Entering a maintenance phase is vital to give your head and body a break from the surplus or deprivation of calories. Also, noting your intake during maintenance gives you a starting point, allowing you to avoid taking wild guesses to enter your next phase.

Luckily, entering maintenance is easy. Once you reach the desired weight, keep your calories the same, and the scale will stop moving. You can stay there until you're ready for the next phase.

Meal Differences

In a cutting phase, extra calories matter a lot; monitor and account for them. In a bulking phase, they matter less, but they're still important since too many can yield too much weight gain in a shorter amount of time. The big-picture view of your diet between the two phases isn't much different.

Sculpted woman lifting weights

For instance, consider your breakfast. In a bulking cycle, three eggs with cheese and two slices of buttered toast yield roughly 650 calories. You'll want to modify it during a cutting phase to cut the calories. Those three eggs might become six tablespoons of liquid egg whites, one whole egg, and one slice of toast — with jam instead of butter — for a total of 270 calories.

For dinner during a bulking phase, you might eat eight ounces of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, a cup and a half of white rice, and some broccoli for a yield of 584 calories. In the cutting phase, eliminate one cup of rice to reduce the caloric yield by almost 200.

The minor differences add up to significant results, and those big results happen over time.

Muscle Gain Followed by Muscle Loss?

One of the other inevitable questions when embarking on a cut is about muscle loss. Energy surpluses are anabolic. In biochemistry, anabolism is the building up of molecules. The inverse, catabolism, is the breaking down of molecules.

Eating to gain muscle mass facilitates growth, whereas the physical act of lifting weights is a catabolic process since it breaks the muscle tissue down. In a bulking cycle, you lift weights (catabolic), eat your surplus of food, rest accordingly (anabolic), and reap the gains.

While in a caloric deficit, you deprive yourself of food, and lift weights and rest accordingly. When comparing the two processes, a cutting phase favors more catabolism than anabolism.

That doesn't sound good on the surface, but that's not the case. Your body goes through these processes daily. The other thing to consider is the difference between "lean body mass" and "muscle tissue." Lean body mass is a broad category encompassing muscle tissue, water weight, hair, bones, organs, fingernails, etc. Muscle tissue is a specific tissue that figures into overall lean body mass.

A cutting phase will cause the loss of lean body mass, and there's not much anyone can do about it. Lucky for you, protein is essential for keeping the majority of your muscle tissue, which is why, whether you're cutting or bulking, eating enough protein is vital. Keep your protein intake high in both cases.

Sculpted man on treadmill

Bulk, Maintain, Cut, and Repeat

A cut after bulking shouldn't exceed the length of time you spent bulking, provided you spent enough time and put enough thought into your bulk. The ideal time frame also depends on your individual goals, but the hard line is to spend some quality time on your bulk.

Carve out eight months to a year and ensure you're eating well and bountifully — and training hard. Take care in your maintenance phase, and then enter your cutting phase to reap the rewards of it all.

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