Are you currently trying to build a better physique but baffled by the concept of bulking and cutting? Then stick around. Because today, I will be explaining whether skinny guys should bulk or cut first.
Skinny people with less than 18% body fat should first lean bulk in order to add muscle mass onto their physiques, before going cutting. Conversely, skinny fat people with over 18% body fat should first go on a cut to reduce excess body fat, before going on a bulk.
When I first started my weight gain journey 2 years ago, I was stumped with the same dilemma.
If I bulk first, will my love handles become bigger?
If I cut first will I become even scrawnier than I am now?!
These were the two questions that kept me in analysis paralysis.
And that’s why today I want to help my fellow skinny guys decide whether to bulk or cut first!
So get ready, and let’s get stuck in!
- Are You Skinny-Fat Or Just Skinny?
- What Makes You Skinny?
- Your Goals Determine If You Should Bulk Or Cut First
- For Skinny Guys Who Wants To Bulk First
- For Skinny Guys Who Want To Cut First
- Protein Is Essential Regardless Of Whether You Bulk Or Cut First
- Resistance Training Is Essential Regardless Of Your Decision To Bulk Or Cut First
First, here is Joe Delaney’s take on the question!
And if you are a skimmer-type, use my chart below to decide!
Are You Skinny-Fat Or Just Skinny?
First things first:
All skinny guys deciding whether to bulk or cut first will need to determine whether you are actually skinny, or skinny-fat.
This may sound a bit silly, but it’s a perfectly legitimate question.
Neither terms are exactly formal definitions you would expect to find in a scientific journal. Nonetheless, it is an essential factor to establish if you are trying to decide whether to bulk or cut first.
And since neither are formal classifications, it can become easy to classify yourself into the wrong category.
So let’s apply some quantitive definitions to determine whether you are skinny-fat or just downright skinny.
Skinny-Fat People Have A Low BMI And High Body %
Skinny-fat people score low values for their body mass index (BMI) but high values for their body fat %.(1)
BMI is an assessment used to determine your body mass based on your height and weight. And this can be determined with a BMI chart like this one from Withings.com.
Body fat is an assessment used to determine your total fat composition. And a convenient way to determine your body fat % is with online charts such as this one from Trainbeyondthebox.com.
Generally speaking- you are considered skinny-fat if you have a:
Additionally, you will have very little muscle mass.
As a result, your body often looks slim when clothed. But take those clothes away, and a belly is revealed. Furthermore, any signs of visible abs are nowhere to be seen!
Skinny People Have A Low BMI And Low Body %
In comparison, skinny people have low scores for both their BMI and body fat %.
Generally speaking- you are considered skinny if you have a:
And just like a skinny fat person, you will also have very little muscle mass.
As a result, your body often will look equally slim when clothed or unclothed. But you will have visible abs.
Are you a skinny dude? If so, you might be interested in my complete guide to building your first 10 pounds of muscle!
What Makes You Skinny?
So why exactly are you skinny? Were you just born this way?
But the more likely reason is due to your daily lifestyle choices.
1. Lack Of Resistance Training
Firstly, both skinny and skinny fat people generally do little to no resistance training.
Furthermore, resistance training is the driving force behind muscle growth.(6)
Consequently, your sedentary lifestyle has not provided your body with the adequate stimulus required to promote muscle growth. And this is why you have those skinny arms and legs.
Therefore, a resistance training program is absolutely essential for skinny guys looking trying to aim for a desirable physique.
If you’re looking to train at home, you may be interested in my other post which details the cost per lb of different types of free weights.
2. Poor Diet
Secondly, skinny and skinny fat people tend to under-consume the nutrients required for muscle development.
And these nutrients include:(7)
- Complex carbohydrates.
- Healthy fats.
Furthermore, protein is a particularly important nutrient. This is because protein contains amino acids. And amino acids are the building blocks for muscle.(8)
Therefore under consuming, protein will prevent your body from building muscle mass. And this will prevent you from building your desired physique!
Skinny guys may want to check out my other post for a daily 140g of protein meal plan to build muscle.
3. Extended Caloric Deficit
Thirdly, skinny and skinny fat people regularly under-consume calories.
The body uses calories two ways:(9)
- Fuelling the muscle growth process.
- Stored as fat for reserve energy.
So as a result of under-consuming calories (aka being in a caloric deficit), you prevent your body from gaining muscle or storing fat. And this is often why skinny people remain skinny.
In comparison- if you are skinny fat- chances are you have been overconsuming calories (aka being in a caloric surplus). Consequently, you will store those calories as fat.
Additionally, as a skinny fat guy, you may have also been cycling between periods of under and over-consuming calories.
And when this happens, your body will store calories as fat whenever possible (to save energy for when you are under-consuming).(10)
Therefore a combination of calorie restriction and limited resistance training will result in you staying skinny or skinny fat!
Your Goals Determine If You Should Bulk Or Cut First
Ok so now you want to change your physique. You want to transform yourself from a skinny guy to a jacked guy.
But the million-dollar question is should you bulk or cut first?
In other words:
- Do you focus on first gaining muscle by bulking, and then cutting the fat afterwards?
- Do you focus on stripping all the fat, and then begin gaining muscle on a bulk?
The answer is……it depends.
It depends on your ultimate goal and current body type (skinny or skinny fat). This is because different people have different goals.
And the two most common skinny guy goals are:
- Become big and muscular.
- Become lean and muscular.
Taking both factors into consideration, I have created a recommendation chart. Take a look below!
|Goal: Big And Muscular||Goal: Lean And Muscular|
|Skinny||Bulk then cut||Bulk then cut|
|Skinny-Fat||Bulk then cut||Cut then bulk|
As you can see, I would generally recommend both skinny and skinny fat guys to first bulk before cutting (regardless of whether your goal is to become big and muscular or lean and muscular).
By taking this approach, you will be able to gain as much muscle as possible before cutting away the fat. And this will benefit both skinny guys and skinny fat guys in filling out your frame.
However, the exception exists with skinny-fat guys who are trying to become lean and muscular.
If this sounds like you, then I would recommend cutting before bulking.
That’s because you will first want to strip away your excess body fat in order to become lean. And this will allow your muscle gains to become more visible during your bulk.
I found weighted HIIT workouts to be a good way to cut whilst building some muscle along the way. If you’re interested, you can check out my other article to learn how to do HIIT with dumbbells.
Next, I will explain the advantages and disadvantages of skinny guys choosing to bulk or cut first.
For Skinny Guys Who Wants To Bulk First
Ok so here’s what you need to know if you are a skinny guy looking to bulk first.
What Does A Bulk Involve?
At its core, a bulk requires you to be in a caloric surplus (consuming more than your maintenance calories)
When this happens, your body will convert the calories into either fat or muscle.(11)
In addition to this, the magnitude of your caloric surplus will affect how much muscle and fat you will gain.
Have a look at the chart below for a better idea.
As you can see, the higher your caloric surplus, the faster you will gain muscle.
But the caveat to this is that you will also gain much more fat. And this kind of major caloric surplus (20+% above maintenance) is called a dirty bulk.(12)
In comparison, a lower caloric surplus will result in slower muscle gains.
But the advantage of this is that you will also store less fat as a result of the bulk.
And this kind of minor caloric surplus (5-15% ) is called a lean bulk.
Benefits Of Bulking First
So what are the benefits of bulking before a cut?
|Advantages Of Bulking First|
|Quickly add muscle to a skinny frame.|
|The caloric surplus will provide more energy to work out.|
|Gaining more muscle makes it easier to burn fat.|
|Mentally easier to bulk than cut|
The first benefit of bulking first is that you will be able to gain muscle. And as a skinny guy, this is probably on your priority list right?
Secondly, a bulk will provide you with the energy required to train hard at the gym. And the harder you train, the faster you will make muscle gains.
This can also be an important mental factor when it comes to maintaining your overall plan.
This is because the more energy you have at the gym, the more you will enjoy it. And the more you enjoy something the more likely you will stick to it.
Thirdly, the muscle you gain from bulking first will help tremendously with your fat burning. This is because muscle is metabolically active tissue. To put it simply, the more muscle you put on, the more fat you will burn (even at rest).(13)
Finally, people usually find going on a caloric surplus to be a much easier process than going on a caloric deficit. Psychologically, this will be advantageous to you if you are someone who likes to ease into things.
You may also be interested in my other article to find out how long it takes for a skinny beginner to bulk up.
Drawbacks Of Bulking First
Now for the drawbacks of bulking first.
|Disadvantages Of Bulking First|
|Fat gains are inevitable on a bulk.|
|Muscle gains require time.|
|Unsuitable if you currently have a high body fat %|
First of all, it is inevitable that you will gain fat from a bulk. In fact, even on the leanest of bulks, you will gain some fat.
So if you are a skinny fat guy who is adamant about not gaining any more fat, then bulking first may not be suitable for you.
Secondly, it takes time to gain muscle.
In fact, only so much muscle can be built in a given period of time. This means you will need to stay on a lean bulk for at least 4 months (ideally up to 12+ months) to build any significant muscle.
All the while, you will be gaining a bit of fat together with muscle.
Again, this may make bulking unsuitable for skinny-fat guys who are already on the higher end of the body fat spectrum.
Finally, considering the above two points, if you are currently already above 18% body fat, you may want to start on a cut before bulking.
You may also be interested in my other post to find out how to minimize fat gains on a bulk.
Lean Bulk Method
For the purpose of this post, I won’t be covering the methodologies behind the dirty bulk. This is because I would always advise a skinny guy to first try lean bulking before a dirty bulk (start walking before you try running kinda thing).
Furthermore, the lean bulking approach is becoming increasingly regarded as the superior method to go on a caloric surplus. This is due to the limited fat gains seen with a lean bulk.(14)
To lean bulk, you will have to consume a 5-15% caloric surplus. Additionally, you will also have to consume an adequate amount of macronutrients as per below:
In terms of how long you should bulk for, I would recommend 4-12 months.
But the main endpoint should be determined by when you reach 15-20% body fat. At this point, you should end the bulk.
If you are currently skinny fat and above 18% body fat, then you may want to consider cutting first. And once you have reached a lower body fat % (say 14%), you can start bulking.
Check out my other post for more information on lean bulking duration,
For Skinny Guys Who Want To Cut First
Now, here’s what you need to know if you are a skinny fat guy looking to cut first.
What Does A Cut Involve?
A cut involves entering a caloric deficit (consuming less than your maintenance calories).
When you do this, your body will take the required calories from your fat stores (and muscle if you aren’t consuming enough protein).(15)
And this will cause you to lose fat.
Just like lean bulking and dirty bulking, the magnitude of a caloric deficit will affect the rate of fat and muscle loss.
Take a look at the chart below.
As you can see, a major cut will see you losing fat at a significant rate. But you will also lose a lot more muscle.(16)
In comparison, a mild cut will see you losing fat at a much slower rate. But you will also lose a lot less muscle.
In general, I would recommend all skinny guys to go on a mild cut before trying a major cut.
Just like with lean bulking, a mild cut is a more beginner-friendly method to go on a caloric deficit.
Benefits Of Cutting First
Although many people will advise skinny dudes to bulk first, there are advantages to cutting before you bulk.
|Advantages Of Cutting First|
|More visible muscle gains when you start bulking|
|Strips belly fat for skinny fat people.|
|A shredded appearance may help morale.|
|Fat is lost faster than muscle is gained.|
Firstly, by cutting before you bulk, you are essentially taking your body to ground zero. In other words, you will be able to start your bulk with the least amount of stored fat.
And this will allow you to bulk for longer when the time comes. Furthermore, a longer bulking duration also means more muscle gains.
Secondly, it may be in your interest to strip away your current belly fat before starting your bulk. And this is particularly applicable for skinny-fat guys on the higher spectrum of body fat %.
If this is the case, cutting first may be the better choice for you.
Thirdly, cutting first will produce a “shredded” appearance.
Regardless of how little muscle you currently have, a low body fat % will reveal muscle definition. And this may serve as a morale boost for skinny guys chasing a lean body.
Finally, fat is lost faster than muscle is gained. This means you will be able to get a shredded appearance faster by cutting before bulking. And this can be another morale boost for skinny guys looking for visibly fast results.
Drawbacks Of Cutting First
Now for the drawbacks of choosing to cut first.
|Disadvantages Of Cutting First|
|Will make you look even skinnier.|
|Low energy levels for workouts.|
|Psychologically difficult to begin your journey on a cut.|
First of all, cutting will make you skinnier. You already know this right?
So if you are currently below 15% body fat, you may want to avoid cutting. This will turn your skinny physique into a scrawny physique.
Secondly, you will have low energy levels on a cut. Even experienced lifters can struggle with energy levels during a cut.
So if you are a beginner, you should expect lethargy during your workouts. And psychologically, this can be very difficult for a skinny guy (you will be starting on an uphill climb!).
Finally, going on a caloric deficit tends to be harder than going on a surplus.
In other words, it’s harder to eat less than it is to eat more. Again, as a beginner, this may present a psychological challenge in the early stages of your transformation.
Mild Cut Method
Now I will explore how to go on a cut. For the purpose of the post, I will be using a mild cut as an example.
This is because a mild caloric deficit is widely accepted to be the best method to lose fat whilst maintaining the most muscle. And as a skinny guy, you probably want to keep your gains!(17)
To go on a mild cut, you will have to reduce your calories to 10-20% of your maintenance calories. If you want to lose fat at a faster rate, then keep closer to the higher end of the spectrum (20%).(18)
Additionally, it is essential to maintain a high level of protein intake. I would recommend 2.4g of protein per kg of body weight per day to maximize muscle maintenance.(19)
Finally, you should stick to your usual resistance training program. You will likely lose some strength on your cut (this is normal).
But by maintaining your training volume as much as possible, you will also maintain your muscle.
Also very important- you should never go on a cut for more than 12 weeks (to prevent major muscle loss).
Protein Is Essential Regardless Of Whether You Bulk Or Cut First
Regardless of whether you’re bulking or cutting, you should maintain a high protein intake to maintain/build muscle.
2.4g of protein per kg of body weight per day (or 1.2g per lb of body weight per day) is recommended.
Beginners can find it frustratingly difficult to eat this amount of protein. I know I did!
I found protein powders like this MyProtein Impact Whey (you can find the cheapest price here) helped a lot with hitting my daily protein targets. Each serving contains 21g of lean protein with only 100 calories.
If you’re vegan, then the MyProtein Pea Isolate (you can find the cheapest price here) is a good plant alternative. Each serving contains 24g of protein and 117 calories.
Both powders cost just 30 cents per serving, and a 5.5lb bag will last you between 2-3 months.
Resistance Training Is Essential Regardless Of Your Decision To Bulk Or Cut First
Regardless of your choice to bulk or cut first, you should maintain a consistent resistance training plan.
Check out my weight lifting crash course for more information on how to lift weights to build muscle!
In fact, this is one of the most important factors for success.
Let me explain.
As a skinny guy trying to bulk- resistance training will drive muscle growth.
And as a skinny fat guy trying to cut- resistance training will drive muscle growth AND fat loss.
Therefore its essential to keep training regardless of your choice to cut or bulk first.
An effective training volume to build and maintain muscle should look something like this:(20)
By keeping to your training volume, you will maximize the likelihood of reaching both your bulking and cutting goals.
Additionally, your exercises should be mainly focused on the big compound lifts.
Check out my other article to learn more about the compound exercises!
That’s the post finished!
Today, I have answered: should skinny guys bulk or cut first?
The choice for skinny guys to bulk or cut first comes with different advantages and disadvantages. And your choice should reflect your current body composition and goals.
In general, both skinny and skinny fat guys should bulk before cutting. This will allow you to build muscle and fill out your physique before you go on a cut.
However, the exception lies with skinny fat guys who currently have a high body fat %. In this case, it is recommended to cut down to a lower body fat % before you start bulking. And this will prevent even more fat being added to your frame.
Will you be cutting or bulking first?
Let me know in the comments!
You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition I used to go from skinny to ripped!
Thanks for reading guys!
(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)