I’ve already written about the stupidity of how modern trainees employ “bulking and cutting” (summary; don’t do it), but ultimately I find that the reason these methods are so popular is because trainees have a fundamental misunderstanding of how eating actually works. This isn’t to say they misunderstand mastication and swallowing (make your jokes now), but more that, as in most cases, they misunderstand the effect for the cause. Trainees believe that they can use nutrition to manipulate training, when in reality, they need to manipulate TRAINING to utilize nutrition.
Like, this is the perfect sort of training if you want to eat sh*t
As always, I’ll start with the common, and consequently incorrect, belief. Presently, it is en vogue to believe that your nutrition drives the results of your training. If you eat a caloric surplus (250-500 more than your TDEE…yes, it disgusts me to write that out), you gain muscle. If you eat a caloric deficit, you lose fat. The program doesn’t matter, you just adjust your nutrition. You bulk until you have gained the size you want, and you cut until you are at the bodyfat percentage that you want. Forever and ever.
Surely the casual observer recognizes the madness of this, right? This is just spinning your wheels at its finest. If you just keep increasing and decreasing calories by the same amount, you’re simply adding and subtracting the same amount of fat and muscle over and over again. If the only variable you change is nutrition, while leaving training exactly the same, you’re not going to give your body and reason to create anything new when you gain, nor will you be set up to successful reach the absolute lowest levels of bodyfat.
We've all seen this happen before
When one endeavors to gain muscle, they need to create a stimulus that places a demand on the body to MAKE more muscle. This means training NEEDS to change if one’s goal is to gain muscle. If one continues to do the exact same thing they were doing before and simply increases how much they were eating, that’s called getting fat. Americans have been perfecting that trick for decades now; keep up the same energy expenditure while gradually increasing calories, and we’ve all seen how well that works out. Simply performing an hour of lifting 3 times a week while spending the remaining 23 hours of each day sedentary is not going to suddenly radically shift one’s biology such that, NOW, when it eats too much, a substantial portion of it is muscle.
Even crazier, some gurus out there are proposing that one should do even LESS when their goal is to gain muscle. They advocate that trainees cease all cardio and conditioning work and minimize expenditure outside the gym at all costs. “Cardio kills gains”, conveniently expounded by fat people who aren’t very big or strong, and the prevailing wisdom on the internet. It’s true, bears are huge, and they like to eat a lot and hibernate, but no matter how much you refuse to shave and engage in basic hygiene, you’ll never be one, so quit trying to follow their approach. Why not instead emulate those humans who came close to being bears, like Kaz, Derek Poundstone, Mariusz Pudzianowski, Brian Shaw, etc, who, by the way, all trained hard and often.
Like bears, Derek was a fan of chicken of the sea. Unlike bears, Derek was literally eating chicken blended in water.
That’s what we’re getting at here people; you need to push your bodies to promote growth. The reason why an increased food intake is associated with muscle gain is that nutrition is recovery, and, when one pushes their training hard enough, they need to push the recovery to match. This means one needs to INCREASE their volume to gain muscle. They need to increase the demand on their body and THEN feed the body enough to allow for recovery. Simply eating more to gain muscle is approaching it backwards; one instead needs to train hard enough to necessitate eating more to gain muscle. Create the demand for recovery, THEN increase the recovery, don’t just increase recovery when there is nothing to recover from.
Up the volume, don’t just up the dose. Start adding in an extra 100 pull ups a day. Start adding more sets to get in more reps. Train twice a day. Add an extra day to your program to focus on weak areas. Put a GHR in your living room and hit a set whenever you walk by. Just do SOMETHING to give your body a reason to add more muscle. THIS is how you ensure that you aren’t stuck in the infinite hell of just gaining and losing the same 20lbs over and over again. THIS is how you actually significantly impact body composition.
No photoshop required
And guess what? You’ll know when it’s time to lose weight because you’re going to eventually reach the point where you cannot increase the food and sleep enough to match the ridiculous demands that you’ve put on your body. This is when it’s time to scale back the volume, and with that, the food. Once again, we are CHANGING the training and in turn matching the direction of the training with the necessary nutrition. If all we do is simply take away calories while keeping everything the same, all we’re doing is further taxing our recovery.
And what about those gurus that advocate INCREASING demand when losing fat? What is this madness?! We’re already taxing our recovery by reducing calories, and now we reduce it further by increasing demand on the body TO recover? This is how burnout, injuries and stagnations occur. It’s the lazyman’s approach to thinking; “just work out more, that way you’ll lose weight”. We push the training and conditioning hard when we’re GAINING weight so that we have that reserve to dip into during fat loss.
There tend to be consequences when we spend more than we earn
If you spent all of your weight gain time being lazy, that means you’re screwed when the fat loss starts, because you have NOTHING to take away. You were a slug, and you conditioned your body to only perform at the barest of activity levels while still needing a massive surplus to “recover” from your training, and now you’re taking away the recovery. That maniac that was training 6 days a week for 2 a days can scale it back to 4 days of training while they lose fat; what is that dude who was only training 3 days a week going to do?
Yes, I am fully aware that bodybuilders make prodigious use of cardio when they are getting competition lean. Here’s the thing; the cardio they do is VERY low intensity, because the goal of it is simply to find another way to create a caloric deficit. When you’re living off of lettuce and water trying to dip down to 4% bodyfat, you simply don’t have enough food going in to take away anything of substance, so some cardio needs to occur. However, bodybuilders are smart enough to understand the compromised state of their recovery, so they pick cardio that is as least taxing on their systems as possible to allow SOME form of recovery. And guess what; they DON’T recover. Talk to any bodybuilder in the final stretches of their contest prep and they will tell you that their strength is shot, they’re on wobbly legs, and they feel like a zombie. It’s why you see so many videos of pre-comp bodybuilders using machines; they lack the ability to train successfully with free weights. Hell, many of them don’t even want to deal with the effort of LOADING a barbell. Paul Carter wrote about this recently. It’s WHY it was such a big deal that Ronnie Coleman deadlifted 800lbs right before the Olympia; that was sheer insanity!
There are no words
The biggest takeaway here is that you’ll always be miserable. At least, so long as you are progressing, you will be experiencing misery. That’s WHY so few people succeed; so few people are willing to endure what it takes. When gaining muscle, you should be pushing your body so hard and so close to the point of breaking that the sheer amount of food you’re eating is no consolation whatever. The people that think that it’s the EATING that’s the hard part about gaining muscle have clearly never had to ever exert themselves in their lives. Fat people eat to the point of discomfort all the time; it’s not the key to muscle gain, it’s not even scratching the surface of the true misery needed. Those numbskulls quoting memes posting photos of donuts writing “#gains” are clearly NOT suffering enough to actually get any real progress, because someone earnestly engaged in muscle gaining is going to be too exhausted to be funny. When you lose fat, you’re going to experience enough hunger to make it so that the reduction in volume can’t possibly register as joy. Anyone who is legitimately trying to change themselves is going to be going through a whole lotta suck to get there.
Quit spinning your wheels and going in circles. If all you’re doing is changing your calories while keeping your training the same, all you’re doing is getting fat and getting skinny, over and over again. That’s not progress; that’s a yo-yo diet. Train hard when you eat big, and train smart when you eat little.