After a successful cutting phase, it is important to prepare your body for the new calorie increases to come. When ending a long cut period, your metabolism is often slower than it was early in the cut, your hormones and appetite are slightly altered, and your mental state may also be ready for a change.
It is advised that you first enter a maintenance period (typically lasting 25-50% the length of your cutting phase) following a long cut in order to stabilize your hunger and hormone levels. By increasing your caloric intake by 300-500 calories more than your end stage cut numbers, you can help nudge the body into the recovery process and set the stage for successful bulk.
From there, you can increase your calories on a weekly basis based on your rate of weekly weight gain (see below) to initiate muscle hypertrophy and minimize excessive fat gain during the bulk
In this article, we will discuss eight ways you can ensure a successful bulk following a long cut, and offer you sample annual bulking and cutting schedules for beginner and more advanced lifters.
Related Article: Foods to Avoid When Building Muscle
Can You Cut for Too Long?
A cut lasting 3-4 months is about as long as one should go when truly cutting.
The goal during a cut is to lose no more than 10% of their body mass in one cut phase (most people should aim to lose 5-10% of their body mass during a cut), to make sure weight rebound does not occur and not negatively impact the metabolism.
When cutting for too long, people often end up decreasing their caloric intake so much that they can decrease their resting metabolic rate (the amount of energy they burn at rest).
Additionally, if you cut for too long or cut too aggressively, you could end up losing higher proportions of muscle (which will further decrease your metabolic rate).
The more muscle you lose during a cut means of the actual weight you lost on a scale, a larger majority of it was muscle loss rather than true fat loss (which if you lose muscle during the cut that you worked so hard to build during the bulk, why even bulk!)
Related Article: Female Bulking Workout Plan (Complete Guide)
How Much Weight Should You Gain During a Bulk Phase?
When looking to gain weight during a bulking phase, I like to think about a bulk lasting 8-12 weeks for most first timers (however this could be longer — I have done 16-week bulks plenty of times).
When looking at how much weight to gain, it really comes down to:
- The level the lifter (beginners often can gain weight quicker)
- How big you are already (heavier individuals often can gain more weight than lighter ones, simply based on % of body mass)
- What your current body fat percentages are (if you are leaner starting a bulk, let’s say under 10%, you will typically be able to bulk for longer periods of time not gain fat excessively or too fast)
Therefore, in a 12-week bulking program, beginners could aim to gain 10-20lbs in total (1-2lbs per week), whereas intermediate and advanced lifters might be between 6-12lbs in total (.5-1lb per week).
The key is that you want to make sure you are not gaining weight TOO fast, as this means your body is getting good at building muscle (good), AND storing fat (not good).
On average, most fitness goers can expect to gain a ratio of ⅓ muscle and ⅔ body fat. For those who have trained for longer periods of time or are more advanced, lower muscle to fat gain ratios are very common (¼, ⅙, or even ⅛ muscle with the rest body fat).
Check out our other bulking resources:
- What Should Your Calories & Macros Be When Bulking?
- Can You Eat Anything While Bulking?
- What Cardio Should You Do When Bulking?
- How To Bulk If You Have A Low Appetite?
- 7 Bulking Breakfast Ideas
- Bulking With A Fast Metabolism: How-To For Hard Gainers
- Should You Bulk or Cut First If You Are Skinny Fat?
8 Bulking Tips After a Long Cut Phase
Below are eight tips you can use to have a productive bulk after a long term cut.
All of these are essential tips. However, I highly recommend taking the post cut maintenance period seriously. If you do not, this is the #1 reason so many people ballon up after a cut/weight loss phase, and primarily gain fat fast (and often tend to gain more than they started with before the cut).
1. Start with a Weight Maintenance Period
Following any period of either weight gain (bulk) or weight loss (cut), you want to spend time maintaining your new weight so that your body has time to readjust.
Neglecting the maintenance period is often a big issue for people who lose weight and abruptly end their diet, and find themselves regaining all of a significant amount of the weight (mostly fat) they just lost.
The same goes with individuals who bulk and gain weight.
After gaining weight in a successful bulk, you will certainly be tempted to go into a diet plan to lose some body fat gained during the bulk, however I urge you to hold off for a few weeks to allow your body to adjust to the new weight range it is in.
After a cut, your metabolism is slower than usual, your hormones associated with tissue retention are slowed, and your willpower is often low. To combat the excessive weight gain rebound, you want to add 200-500 calories back into your diet per day, and do this for 2-8 weeks, depending on the length of your cut phase.
Generally speaking, your maintenance phase should be roughly 25-50% the length of your cut.
You will often gain a few pounds initially during the maintenance phase, but then find some stability for a few weeks prior to starting your bulk.
2. Increase Calories Gradually
After a maintenance phase, you can begin to increase your calories gradually to initiate the bulk phase.
To do so, you want to increase your calories by 300-500 calories from maintenance in the first week and track your weight gain. After weekly weigh-ins, you can decide whether your new intake produces sustainable weight gain, or if you need to increase your intake more, or decrease it.
Generally speaking, you should be able to gain ½ to 1lb per week of body weight during the bulking cycle. If you find that you are gaining more than that week to week, you can cut your calories back a little bit as it suggests you are gaining weight too fast (and gaining weight too fast often means you are gaining more body fat than muscle, since muscle can only grow so fast).
If however, you are gaining less than 1/2lb per week, this suggests you are still not eating enough to fuel weight gain (muscle growth and some fat gain), and therefore should increase your existing calorie intake by another 200-500 calories for another week.
If you fall within ½ – 1lb of weight gain in a week, you could simply eat the same amount of calories you did in the previous week, and see if you can continue gaining weight at the same pace with that amount of calories.
You would then repeat this process week to week, for the remainder of the bulk.
3. Increase Carb Intake
For most individuals who are training hard in the gym and looking to gain muscle mass (and fuel hard training and recovery), eating carbohydrates is key.
Your muscles and brain (nervous system) function almost entirely off carbohydrates (sugars). By focusing on eating enough protein, and carbohydrates, you can make sure you have enough energy in the body, and in the muscle bellies (muscle glycogen) to train hard, signal protein synthesis, and recover properly to do it all over again.
Fats can be used during a bulking process to increase overall calorie intake, however just know that your muscles want to use carbohydrates as their primary energy source during and after workouts. Protein is also critical for recovery and muscle building.
4. Track Weekly Weight Gain
As discussed above, tracking weekly weight gain is key so that you can monitor your progress and adjust your macros on a weekly basis accordingly.
I prefer to track my weight every Monday and Friday, and compare my Monday weigh-ins to Mondays, and Friday weigh-ins to Fridays.
It is important to remember that your weight will fluctuate day to day (for me sometimes I can fluctuate +-5lbs between Monday and Friday). By comparing days of the week to the same day, and looking at things from a week to week lens, you can get a clearer picture of your actual weight loss/weight gain.
Note, that when first starting out any diet (either a bulk or a cutting cycle), your body will often want to resist the new phase. During my first 16-week bulk, I went from eating 3,000 calories per day to 4,500 calories, per day, for an entire month (1,500 calories more per day x 30 days) and gained only one pound.
If you do that math (3,500 calories in a pound), I should have gained over 10lbs that month! Why not? Because my body wanted to maintain its current weight (which also happened to me when I cut calories and didn’t lose weight).
Be OK with taking it slow and steady and understand that the first few weeks will be slow (typically weeks 2-3 travel slowly). Be patient, track your progress, and adjust accordingly.
5. Train for Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength
During a bulk, your eyes should be one gaining as much muscle as you can. Eating copious amounts of calories and gaining weight without hard training is just a recipe for fat gain.
Your workouts need to be geared for optimal muscle growth, which often means training compound movements, isolation movements, and doing them in high volumes; and typically not with excessively heavy weight.
Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.
Most workout programs geared for muscle growth use loads that are between 50-85% of one’s maximum, and have lifters perform anywhere from 5-30 repetitions (depending on the muscle group, the day, and the individual).
Lifting to maximums and maxing out doesn’t offer a lifter the opportunity to train the muscles to muscle failure or in high enough doses to elicit a significant muscle building response, which is why lifting with above 90% of one’s max is often not suggested in a hyperopic cycle.
Want to grow massive quads and hamstrings? Here are the 10 Best Leg Exercises to Do While Bulking
6. Increase Training Frequency (If You Can)
If you are coming off a cutting cycle, chances are you weren’t able to train as hard as you may have liked since you were in a calorie deficit.
When cutting, you often need to decrease training volume since you are not in a calorie surplus (which can impede recovery). Additionally, cutting weight often places stress on the body, especially the endocrine and neurological systems, making it difficult to train and recover properly at higher volumes.
Once you end a cutting phase, have progressively increased food intake during the maintenance phase, and have reacclimated yourself to harder training, you are going to want to increase training volume and/or frequency compared to your cutting training.
7. Monitor Body Fat Percentages During Bulk
Ideally you would start a bulk from a lean state (10% bodyfat or less for men and between 14-18% for women).
By starting from a leaner state, your body will most likely be more receptive to using the increased calories to build muscle rather than put it into immediate storage. If you are not as lean, your body is typically used to already having enough calories to build muscle, so it may not be as receptive and sensitive to the newly increased food intakes.
Throughout a bulk, I will monitor body fat levels and track them as they steadily increase (increasing body fat is often common with leaner lifters and hardgainers).
The temporary increase in body fat can be kept to a minimum (3-5% increase) if you give yourself time to progressively eat more and not overeat (something many people who bulk do is they blindly overeat, which is different than a calculated increase of macronutrients based on weekly weight gain rates).
Once your body fat approaches higher levels (typically 15-17% or higher for males, and 23-25% for females, I often slow my bulk down and go into a maintenance phase, as that often suggests your body is getting good at building muscle AND storing more fat than it was early in the bulking process.
Please note, the above body fat ranges are not exact, however can be used as guidelines.
8. End Your Bulk with a Maintenance Period
Like any planned weight loss or weight gaining period, it is advised to end your diet plan with a maintenance phase to help the body adjust to the new weight and prepare for the next phase.
This can be accomplished by cutting back your calories just enough so that your weight stabilizes.
By allowing this to happen you can help keep your metabolism high and prepare your body gradually for the weight loss phase to come.
Related Article: How To Bulk Up Fast: 10 Tips For Maximizing Muscle Growth
Sample Bulking and Cutting Schedule
Below is a sample bulking and cutting schedule. I recommend that you start a bulk or cut cycle from a maintenance phase (or simply put, make sure your weight is stable for a few weeks prior to going into a bulk or cut). Note that between each bulking and cutting phase there is a maintenance period as well.
- 16-Week Bulking Cycle: October, November, December, and January
- 6-Week Maintenance Cycle: February and First Half or March
- 10-Week Cutting Cycle: Last Half of March, April, and May
- 16-Week Maintenance Period: June, July, August, September
This is just one example of an annual bulking and cutting cycle that times you up to bulk during the winter months (when most people hide behind warm clothes and holiday foods), and cut during the spring to be summer ready (1 cut and 1 bulk per year, the rest of the time spent in maintenance).
This next bulking and cutting schedule is one that I used this past year, in which I did two bulk, one mini cut, and one longer cut. I did a mini-cut to slow the rate of body fat gained from the first bulk, and to extend my bulking process longer.
- 16-Week Bulking Cycle: September, October, November, and December
- 4-Week Mini Cut: January
- 6-Week Bulk Cycle: February and First Half March
- 2-Week Maintenance Cycle: Last Half of March
- 8-Week Cutting Cycle: April and May
- 12-Week Maintenance Period: June, July, August
This allowed me to spend more time in a bulking phase, and hopefully gain more muscle over the year. Note, that the mini-cut phase did not follow a maintenance phase, which was a calculated risk and is not advised for beginners or intermediates, however this can be strategically used in more advanced diet plans to extend a bulk and help slow the rate of body fat being gained during the bulking process.
When entering a bulking cycle following a long cut, it is important to make sure you first stabilize your bodyweight, energy levels, and kickstart your metabolism by slowly integrating calories back into your diet. In doing so (the maintenance phase), you can begin to revamp your metabolism and hormonal systems associated with dieting, progressingly increase training volume, and set the stage for a successful bulking progress. With the tips above, you should be able to properly monitor your progress, adjust, and progress for the entire bulk process and gain maximal muscle in the process.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.