If you consume a fair amount of pop culture media, then you’re probably heard about the extreme body transformations of celebrities such as Zac Efron and Hugh Jackman.
These two stars underwent intense training and diet to achieve their ripped physiques for their roles in Baywatch and Logan. In separate interviews, they revealed that they dehydrated themselves in the days leading up to filming to look perfect for the camera.
While most of us are aware of how unhealthy and unrealistic these transformations are, many still aspire to mold our bodies in a similar shape—albeit through less extreme means.
One of the most common methods is the bulk and cut. It entails putting on weight to gain muscle mass and then trimming down extra fat to reveal well-defined muscles.
Though it may provide results to the dedicated practitioner, it comes with acute and chronic health risks.
Fortunately, there is a way for you to still achieve a better physique without taking on these risks and enduring dieting and training. But before we reveal how, let’s take a closer look at bulking and cutting and why we don’t recommend it.
Finding its roots in bodybuilding, bulking and cutting refers to the cyclic periods of calorie surplus and restriction that individuals undergo to gain larger, more defined muscles.
The ‘bulking’ phase is marked by increased caloric intake and is usually accompanied by high-intensity resistance training. As its name suggests, the whole point of bulking is to create as much muscle mass as possible.
Because it requires consuming more calories than is needed, those who bulk tend to gain fat along with muscle.
Meanwhile, the ‘cutting’ stage aims to shave off the fat accrued during the bulking phase while preserving as much lean muscle as possible.
Participants achieve this goal by lowering caloric intake and upping caloric output, usually through aerobic exercise.
Unfortunately, despite best efforts, people tend to lose not just fat but also muscle mass at the cutting stage, thus beginning a dysfunctional cycle.
A Google search yields 678,000,000 results for the bulk and cut, signifying how popular it is amongst men and women, young and old alike.
It’s not hard to imagine why: Bulking and cutting seem like the fastest way to gain muscle mass and definition. If celebrities and bodybuilders can do it successfully, then we can, too, right?
Well, the truth is even they find it unpleasant and untenable. After film promotions and competitions, they usually lay off the strict regimens and return to a ‘less fit’ build.
Furthermore, we only see movie stars and physique athletes who practice the bulk and cut at their best shape—not an accurate representation of their bodies.
More importantly, no studies have proven the effectiveness of bulking and cutting for weight loss and muscle mass increase amongst non-bodybuilders over the long term.
So, if your goal is to look lean and toned year-round, bulking and cutting simply isn’t a sustainable approach.
Aside from being ineffective for most of the population, bulking and cutting also poses many health risks for its practitioners.
Let’s take a look at some of them:
The restrictive diet practitioners undergo during cutting can lead to a dangerously low body fat percentage.
For women aged 20-39, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends maintaining 21-32% of body fat. However, female physique athletes commonly drop below 10%, wreaking havoc on glucose regulation, energy storage and release, and hormone levels.
Research that followed female physique athletes found decreased levels of the hormones leptin, T3, testosterone, and estradiol after a four-month fat loss diet.
Leptin regulates our appetite, whereas T3 is a thyroid hormone involved in various physiological processes, including metabolism. Meanwhile, testosterone and estradiol are sex hormones implicated in bone health and the menstrual cycle.
Studies have shown that the cutting period in a cycle can also negatively affect sleep and metabolism, which are crucial to building muscle and staving off fat.
Bulking and cutting are associated not just with adverse physical health outcomes but also with mental health risks.
In and of itself, oscillating between high caloric and low caloric inputs puts bulk and cut practitioners at greater risk of developing disordered eating habits.
This tendency is heightened when bulking and cutting is used by weight class and physique athletes to meet weight and build requirements for their sports.
Bulking and cutting is also closely associated with muscle dysmorphia, a condition characterized by the fixation on muscular definition and lower body fat, amongst the general population.
The body dissatisfaction that drives people to bulk and cut also leads them to use anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) to hasten the growth of lean muscle mass.
Prolonged use of this drug has been linked to heart injuries and fat build-up in the artery’s walls. These complications heighten the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Elevated doses of AAS have also been found to be neurotoxic, increasing the likelihood of developing early-onset dementia.
Now that we’ve established that bulking and cutting rarely work for the average person and carry a host of hazards to your health, the question running through your mind must be:
What’s the alternative? Is it possible to look great through healthy means?
The unsatisfying answer is: it depends.
If celebrities and bodybuilders are your standards for great-looking bodies, then probably not. But if you stop using other people’s physiques as goalposts and start maximizing your natural body type, then looking great and feeling good is definitely within reach.
In our (and our clients’) experience, the best way to do so is through fascial remodeling.
The fascial system encompasses our entire body from head to toe, connecting and separating all of our cells and muscles.
Some studies confirm the role of the fascia in improving leanness and tone. Fascial stimulation has been found to decrease subcutaneous adipose tissue among adult women. Interestingly, a study observed that the method increased metabolism by approximately 170 calories per day.
More research needs to be conducted to solidify these findings, and the exact mechanisms behind these findings still need to be spelled out. But, I can offer an educated guess.
The fascia is implicated in our every movement and the removal of waste in our muscles. So, the healthier your fascia is, the more you engage all of your muscle fibers during exercise, and the easier it is to detoxify. The result is a more defined muscle.
But don’t just take my word for it, take action and try fascial training for yourself! Take our free foundation class to get started.
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