Should I Build Muscle Or Lose Weight First?

Building muscle and losing weight are the two elusive goals that most fitness practitioners desire. Although good fitness habits will certainly yield benefits to your health, there’s also the aesthetic factor to be considered. Being healthy is great, but we want more than that. We want to attain a higher level of fitness. This is why both weight loss and muscle gain are vitally important.

“Bulking” And “Cutting”

You have probably heard these terms being thrown about by the people at your local gym. Bulking and cutting is an old method whose origins are unclear, but it is designed to produce good muscle size and definition in minimal time. It is a two-stage plan, though not everyone agrees on which stage should come first.

During the “bulking” phase, you will take in a lot of calories. You should also be exercising during this time, with a focus on weight training so that you convert more of those excess nutrients into muscle mass. Don’t worry about muscle definition right now, as you are primarily looking for muscle size.

During the “cutting” phase, you will concentrate on losing fat rather than building muscle. Obviously, you should not starve yourself, but try to maintain a slight caloric deficit during this phase. Your exercise at this point will focus on cardio, but you should still do some resistance training so that you don’t lose any more muscle than necessary. Resistance training has proven to be quite effective in reducing the muscle loss that often comes from fasted cardio work.

Which Should I Do First?

This is not one of those instances in which the order makes no difference. On the contrary, which phase you choose to do first is a crucial decision. As you can already tell, most people choose to bulk first, but this is not the best option for everybody.

The answer to this question will depend entirely on how fat or lean you are. If you are fat, you should cut first. If you are skinny, you should bulk first. That is the simple answer, but there is a lot more to discuss.

Find Your Body Fat Percentage

If you are particularly fat or skinny, your decision will be an easy one. If your body type falls somewhere in the middle, you will need to do some figuring. Let’s begin by finding your body fat percentage using the standard method. Bear in mind that the numbers we obtain from this process will be estimates.

First, we will offer you a shortcut. If you don’t want to learn how to calculate this figure, you can just use this online calculator to do the work for you. However, it really is better to learn the formula so that you will not be dependent on some website for this important information.

For those who actually want to learn something, here is the full process. First, get a tape measure and measure the circumference of your neck. Write it down, and then measure your abdomen at its widest point. If you are female, you will also need to measure your hips at their widest point. Now measure your height. You now have all the numbers you need to figure out your body fat percentage.

You will plug the numbers into this formula:

If you don’t know what “log” means, don’t worry. It’s just another button on the calculator. You don’t need a detailed understanding of this part. The number that you obtain from this formula is your approximate body fat percentage. While you’re at it, you might also check your BMI and compare the two for a complete picture of your fitness level.

Interpreting The Results

It is natural for women to have a slightly higher level of body fat when compared to men. Thus, the standards are a little bit different. For men, an optimal percentage would be 10-13%. For women, it’s more like 19-23%. This is the line by which you can judge whether you are lean or fat.

If you have too much fat, the last thing you want to do is go into a bulking phase. During a bulking phase, you will surely put on weight (that’s why they call it “bulking”). If you already have too much weight, you are just making your task more difficult. Cut yourself down to a more reasonable level before you start bulking.

Also, the body tends to lose weight more slowly when fat levels are high. The lower your body fat percentage, the faster you will continue to lose weight. Numerous studies have documented this fact, such as this one and this one.

If you are at, near, or below the recommended body fat percentages, you should bulk first. Chances are, you don’t have a serious problem with body fat, and you are ready to build up your muscles.

The Importance Of Diet

First of all, diet is extremely important. Even when bulking, you want to avoid foods that are high in fat unless they contain lots of other nutrients. Remember, you aren’t just eating for the purpose of sating your hunger. You are trying to give your body a bunch of bricks and mortar with which to build a stronger body. Nutrients are those bricks, as well as the mortar that holds them together. Fat is more like the rock that has to be blasted away before that brick wall can be built.

You should also stick to high-protein foods for more than one reason. First of all, protein is essential for the building of muscle. Secondly, protein is more difficult for the body to digest than carbs. While this may sound bad, it’s actually a good thing when you are trying to lose weight. The body will use some of its calories to process protein, and this means fewer calories stored as fat.


There is no easy answer to this question. To figure out the answer, you will need to be honest with yourself and assess your current fitness level without emotion or vanity. Not everyone can do that, but we hope that you will be among the smarter crowd. Speaking of smart moves, feel free to follow us on Facebook for more interesting articles like this one.

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