This article will take you 12 minutes to read. Feel free to leave your questions in the comment section, they will be answered!
If you’re spending time on this website, you know that we try hard to give you good information about natural bodybuilding and that whenever you have a doubt about dieting and nutrition, you can read this over and over again. We are going to cover the principles of adding-weight/losing weight in the first part, as well as bulking and cutting in the second part. If you ever wondered whether you should do cardio to lose weight, you will have an answer in the third part. This ultimate natural bodybuilding guide to dieting and nutrition will explain you how you can master a good diet to reach your body goals.
1- A simple approach to losing weight or adding weight
Let’s start with the very basic principles of nutrition for bodybuilding.
This starts with the macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, protein) which provide us with energy, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) needed for growth and upkeep of the body.
While both macro and micronutrients are important, it is important to focus on macronutrients first. Because when we talk about cutting and bulking – it’s vital to understand them!
Although they’re highly overrated in the world of fitness, they are still very important to consume to help your body recover faster and help muscle tissues to reconstruct quicker. People with little experience in the gym will almost accuse you of being on steroids for consuming whey protein! Everyone talks about proteins when it comes to the world of bodybuilding – they are often the centre of many fake ideas and seen as a miracle product.
The fats are usually quite neglected. We often come across the stereotype that eating fat will actually make you fatter. Fats are actually essential and a great source of energy. They absorb minerals and vitamins and are needed to build cell membranes, to keep your organs safe.
They’re the sugars. They usually are your biggest source of energy. They help you fuel your brain, kidneys, heart, muscles, and central nervous system.
This is the energy you get from macros:
- Carbs: 4 calories per 1 g
- Protein: 4 calories per 1 g
- Fat: 9 calories per 1 g
For anyone wanting to either bulk, cut, lose weight, or gain weight – it is essential to understand about macronutrients even if you have any of these goals in mind.
How do you use macronutrients to lose or gain weight?
These are simple maths!
Whilst some people have already understood the basics of nutrition for weight-loss or fat-gain and might think “How dare you to explain this? This is simple!”. It is normal that if you are starting you will be lost in this vast subject.
There are many fake ideas around weight loss. People will tell you they’re doing high reps with light weights to cut down and to ‘burn more calories’ and ‘shred down’ or doing cardio to lose weight. In the end, they don’t lose weight, this is because they’re usually not at a calorie deficit.
It’s about being at calorie deficit or a calorie surplus from your maintenance level
Every day your body needs to consume a certain number of calories for its weight and activity level. If you go past that amount, it then isn’t necessary for your body to have it so you start storing fat. On the other hand, if you are not reaching that maintenance level, you are telling your body that you are not consuming enough energy for what it needs at that time. Therefore, your body will start digging the fat out of your body as well as the muscles to consume the energy needed.
Weight-loss in a simplistic example
Let’s illustrate this example now. Let’s say ‘John’ is a male at 80kg bodyweight. He works from 9 to 5 and is quite active involving a lot of walk going to work, etc. This person needs 3000 kcal to maintain his body weight by doing what he does in his everyday life.
If John is getting busy with work and forgets to eat enough, he is most likely not going to reach the 3000 kcal. He might only be eating around 2500 kcals. His body will react and try to get the rest of the 500kcal energy it usually consumes.
As John isn’t consuming that much energy anymore, his body will start taking it from the fat he is holding and his muscles. Thus, John is going to lose weight and his body will re-adapt to a new maintenance level, which is why the more you want to lose weight, the less you need to eat.
For 4 weeks John has been consuming 2500 kcals instead of the 3000 kcals needed at the time to maintain his bodyweight. He has lost 1kg and his body is now at 79 kg body weight. His body only needs 2700 kcal now to maintain its weight. If John wants to lose weight quicker, he will probably have to go down to 2300 kcal for a few weeks to reach a new maintenance level at 2500 kcal a day and so on.
This is why when you go to compete, you end up eating almost nothing to reach that super lean condition – 1500 kcal or less. This also explains how dying of starvation would happen if going further. At some point your body hasn’t got anywhere to steal from, no more fat or muscles to take the energy from.
You would then find yourself becoming extremely tired as energy is no longer provided.
Summarizing gaining and losing weight
- Calorie surplus from your maintenance level at the time = gaining weight
- Calorie deficit from your maintenance level at the time = losing weight
If your goal simply is to lose weight whether it is fat or muscle, you can go that route. Either way, it’s always preferable to lose fat rather than muscles even if you do not go to the gym. This is where it gets interesting and where you understand what bulking and cutting actually means.
If we take the two scenarios explained above, you are either losing weight or gaining weight depending on if you are in a calorie surplus or a deficit. If we talk about gym and bulking, we are talking about having a calorie surplus and when we refer to cutting, we are going the calorie deficit route.
- The difference between gaining weight and bulking is that we are trying to add as much muscle as possible while gaining weight but without over adding fat.
- The difference between losing weight and cutting is that we are trying to lose as much fat as possible while trying to maintain as much muscle as possible.
So, if you are going to the gym, this is probably one of the things you should be doing!
Now that we have talked about how losing weight and adding weight works, we can go deeper into the second part on how bulking and cutting works.
2- How does one bulk or cut?
Now that we understand the very basics of nutrition to lose or add weight, it is important to go a bit deeper to understand how you can slightly modify and maximise these concepts when it comes to bodybuilding.
The bulking phase
You are starting the gym and it’s time for you to give your body some energy to smash these sessions!
And once you’re done with the sessions… you need to give your body and muscles what they need to recover efficiently and grow bigger! All the while, you will need to maintain a structured routine, that helps you improve in the long run.
Theoretically, your goal is to grow muscles while adding as little fat as you can. Then it depends on which route you want to take, as sometimes people will need less of a “clean bulk” to feel full of energy, do great sessions, and get quicker results. This keeps them more motivated seeing performances go up.
However, others will be more patient and accept not growing as quickly by being in the smallest calorie surplus they can. Ultimately, if your weight goes up too quickly, don’t fool yourself, it probably is fat.
It’s important to get that “click” in your mind to escape stagnation
What is usually important is to get that “click” for those who always struggle to put on weight and find themselves stuck with what to do. Let us come up with these two fictional approaches to bulking to explain this better.
Let’s look at these two types of bulk along with their pros and cons:
We will call them, clean bulk and heavy bulk (we don’t want to call it dirty bulk because we consider we are eating healthy!).
As said, there isn’t actually an official name for bulks, in this case, it is just easier to explain that point in a clear manner.
The clean bulk simply means being at a small calorie surplus, you build muscle while adding as little fat as possible.
Pros: Not much fat added, mostly muscles, easier to cut afterward.
Cons: Progress is slow, you can lose motivation and feel like there is no progress, which might also make you want to eat more.
The heavy bulk means going for a moderate to a large calorie surplus, you build muscle while adding more or less fat. It is sometimes needed for “hard-gainers” who burn calories easily or have just a very active life.
Pros: A lot of energy, improving almost all the time
Cons: Adding more fat than on a clean bulk, harder to then cut down, your body might remember fat cells as they don’t die
The heavy bulk method can be great. Keeping yourself motivated and often improving in the gym will inevitably make you gain more muscles in the long run, because you’ve got that whole momentum going on.
By momentum, we mean that energy levels are quite high all the time – you have great sessions and your motivation is very high from it. It makes you want to get back to train more and then do even better at the gym, it’s a virtuous cycle.
Both methods are good, but it mostly comes down to what your starting point is
People who easily put on weight are better off to go for the “clean bulk”, while hard-gainers (skinnier individuals) should probably go for the “heavy bulk”. At the end of the day, this is just a matter of calories. People are different and for some, it takes a bit more “fuel” to get started.
Just take the example of a lawnmower, some might need a harder pull to get going than others.
This is the same here. It does not mean that once it’s started, it is less efficient than the one which only needed a gentle pull. The not so good way would be going on a very dirty bulk and eating way too much, adding too much fat or going on an extremely clean bulk and actually not eating enough. Thus, not improving.
On the other hand, going on a cut that is too long won’t be easy either and could make you lose momentum overtime.
At the end of the day, everything is proportional and you can adjust it over time and get to know what works best for you.
The cutting phase
Cutting is about keeping all these muscles you have been building during the bulking phase. You don’t want to mess up this phase if you want to see the results of your hard work. The cut has a different approach than the bulk.
There is no such thing as terms like a heavy cut or clean-cut or whatsoever. It was just made up for the bulks. Actually, if we had to give it a name, every cut should be “clean-cuts”! Because there is no easy route. Patience is key on a cut. Reducing your calories as little as possible and adjusting upon what the scale says is the key to results.
Going too fast will just result in unnecessary muscle loss.
Trying to keep it as healthy as possible will also play in your favour! Cutting and bulking are similar in the way that the food you consume should be helpful in reaching your body goals. Consequently, the healthier you eat, the better you will do in the end – whether it is a bulk or cut.
It is harder though to eat cleaner on a bulk than on a cut, (in terms of reaching the calories you’ve set for yourself).
So how do you keep all your muscles whilst only losing fat?
Well firstly, while you can try your best to keep as much muscle as possible, it is impossible not to lose some on the way. Indeed, your overall body weight will go down and your performances in the gym will go down as well.
Your muscles, therefore, won’t have the need to be as big as they were before in order to move these weights you could do. The only way to just lose fat whilst building muscles on the cut is for example if you were to take steroids as the time of your cut. But we are staying natural here so we will have to deal with that.
So, we can now change the question to:
How does one limit muscle loss on a cut?
Here, you will have to use your friends the macronutrients and micronutrients the best you can. Give your body the right amount of energy with the right food. We need to use the proteins, carbs, and fat in the best possible way.
By understanding (as explained above) what they are here for and what quantity you need of them on a cut, you will be as efficient as possible. You can add micronutrients and involve some smart supplementation to give your body an extra boost to achieve your goals and keeping you sane as well!
It is recommended that on a cut you approximately need between 1.5 and 2 grams of protein per kg/body weight and that you’ll need 1 gram of fats per kg of your bodyweight. This is the most important point to begin with: only measure your needs in proteins and fats, then do the maths.
Let’s say you are 100kg bodyweight, if you want to go for 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight, you then need 200 grams of protein. So, we have got 200g of protein, 100g of fat, that means 200×4 and 100×9= 1700 kcal.
How much carbs do you need?
For this, using an accurate calculator you can find online will help you. If you are more motivated and have money to spend, go for an actual analysis of your body. According to your measurements, body weight and activity levels, the calculator will give you an approximate idea of what your maintenance level is at the moment.
Let’s say it gives you a result of 3500 kcal. Then here you go, you have got 1700 kcal with the protein and fat together. You then need another 1800 kcal to reach your maintenance level. But you don’t want to be at a maintenance level, you want to cut. You might want to start at 3300 kcal, not 3500 kcal.
Therefore, you need another 1600 kcal in carbs.
You need another 400g of carbs to complete your cutting diet. Now, it is in your best interest to give your body the best food possible to reach these calorie levels. You could potentially cut by eating McDonalds and still respect the macros, but the food you will be giving your body won’t be the best to succeed at it. This is why the healthier the better.
Carbs are the balance
It is very important to understand that when cutting, carbs are the balance. The fats and proteins are almost static, just adjust them to your new bodyweight when you start losing weight. Cutting the carbs and going on a ketogenic diet is not something we’d recommend.
Ketogenic diets could potentially be used when you are about to go compete on stage or for a photo shoot and need to extremely dig in. If your goal is to gym and cut down to levels as low as 7/8/9%, you can certainly do it without ever considering fully cutting your carbs!
You now know pretty much everything about losing weight, cutting down or adding weight, bulking up.
But is there another way to lose weight?
We are going to talk about cardio in this third part.
But does cardio do what you think it does and will you lose fat because you implement it?
3- Should you do cardio when cutting?
Debunking the myth
We often hear people say that they need to start doing sports or running to lose some fat. But once you know losing weight only comes down at a calorie deficit as explained in part 1, all of this does not make sense anymore.
A lot of people who do cardio on a cut or to lose weight do not really know why they are doing so. They associate cardio with losing weight and while this is not completely wrong, it is not the way to look at it. In our goal to be at a calorie deficit, cardio can be implemented because this does help us burn calories.
Therefore, this helps us reach a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. You can do as much cardio as you want but if you’re eating 100 pancakes a day you won’t lose anything! Doing cardio is usually a choice.
So when should you do cardio?
Case 1: Doing cardio at the end of your cut
You can usually easily lose weight only by modifying your diet and play the game at a calorie deficit. In extreme cases, like if you are at the end of your cut and already not eating many calories – you might want to do some cardio to dig even deeper and push the calorie deficit without having to reduce the amount of food you’re eating and end up in starvation.
Case 2: Doing cardio if it makes you feel good
If you want to cut down, but still eat some calories, then you can implement some cardio to burn those extra calories you have enjoyed. Running just like gymming can be extremely rewarding and makes you feel at ease once you have done a session. If this is something you are used to and do not want to fully stop in your journey to build muscle, you should not! Working on your heart is important!
Here are two articles which might are related to the importance of eating enough to build muscle:
We hope you have learned a lot from this ultimate guide summarising the basics of nutrition and dieting in bodybuilding.
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment!