Cyclical Bulking: The Muscle-Building Nutrition Strategy

Learn how to build muscle by training less and eating more without gaining fat with advice from STACK Expert Justin Groce.

Patrick Willis

Have you ever gone through a bulking phase and failed to achieve your goal? If you don't bulk correctly, there's a good chance you will end up looking like Santa Claus instead of Patrick Willis. (See 5 Muscle-Building Nutrition Tips.)

The term "bulking" refers to the process of building muscle. To achieve this, you must resistance train and eat more calories to give your muscles the fuel they need to build. To quote an old weightroom saying, you need to "lift big and eat big."

Problem is, you need to eat almost everything in sight while limiting your training volume and cardio exercise. You are eating more and training less. Sound like a recipe for fat gain? It certainly is, if you aren't careful.

Instead of non-stop bulking, it's better to use a method called cyclical bulking. Cyclical bulking involves eating more calories for six weeks, followed by two weeks of calorie cutting. You may put on weight, but you will burn some of it off in the cutting phase. Here's an example of what it might look like:

Cycle 1

  • 6-week bulk: 8 pounds gained
  • 2-week cut: 3 pounds lost
  • Net gain: 5 pounds

Cycle 2

  • 6-week bulk: 7 pounds gained
  • 2-week cut: 2 pounds lost
  • Net gain: 5 pounds

Total Gain: 10 pounds

The bulking phase increases activity of the calorie-burning hormones leptin and insulin in an attempt to control your fat gain. When you switch to the cutting phase, these hormones are still elevated, helping to accelerate fat burn. (Calculate how many calories you need.)

Cyclical bulking is a popular and effective approach to bulk up, but the timing is not set it stone. You can adjust the cycle  to fit your schedule and weight gain goals.

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