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When to stop bulking

Generally in bodybuilding people are parked in one of two camps, the perma bulk or perma lean camp. Neither is optimal, but realistically there is a time when those of us in the perma bulk camp need to pull back on calorie consumption, even when getting “shredded” isn’t the goal, as muscle growth vs fat gain can become negligible if we push too high. 


So essentially this article is for those that have been bulking for a long time, or have reached a stage in their bulk when they’re struggling to see relative tissue growth and are looking to see when they should pull back. 


But I’m also writing this for myself, as I’ve got to the stage in my bulk now where calories are high and hard to hit, scale weight is stalling and my condition is suffering, so I’ve been researching when and why to take a bulking diet break and how to do so to then kickstart growth more successfully again. 


So just to give some context here, in my situation I bulked for maybe 2 and a half years straight coming back into training, then dieted this summer and lost 10kg then have bulked since may until now with a small 3 week break before going to Mexico at the start of October, and I’ve then pushed on again. 


I’m up 11kg from my lowest weight this year and at the heaviest I’ve ever been just under 96kg however my condition has started to deteriorate. What I mean by that is I’m still seeing strength gains in the gym, my performance is pretty good, but when I look in the mirror, it’s just not pretty. Now this is part of the process. Us mere mortals can’t walk around at 5% body fat year round, that’s just not viable, even if we’re on gear. 


What I’ve found is that as my weight has pushed higher, the shape and overall rate of growth has diminished even as my calories have been pushed up and up. My cut ended at 2600 cals, which is still pretty high but then I started bulking and went back onto my BMR cals, then every time my weight has stalled I’ve gone up by 250 cals, now I’m at 4600 which is honestly just a ballache to get in and my weight is stalling again. So I’d need to push up to 5k cals a day which is doable, but even more of a ballache. However the simple calorie volume is not a reason to stop. Why I’m considering stopping is due to the diminishing returns of muscle tissue gain vs fat gain and I’ll explain more now. 


Essentially, our bodies are optimal at gaining muscle tissue at lower body fat levels, with the ideal being in the 10-15% range. This is when our subcutaneous fat is low, natural testosterone and growth hormone production is highest and oestrogen is low. When body fat gets above 20% and that’s probably roughly where I am now, this starts to vary however.

Growth Hormone Production at Elevated Body Fat %
Growth Hormone Production at Elevated Body Fat %
Natural Testosterone Production At Elevated Body Fat %s
Natural Testosterone Production At Elevated Body Fat %s


With the increase in body fat we see a reduction in natural hormone levels that are complicit in muscle tissue growth and elevated cortisol levels which are catabolic. Thus it is harder to gain muscle tissue when you’re too fat. 


Alongside this, if you’re too fat, and pushing a shit ton of calories in from carb sources as your main energy source, you’ll also be suffering from reduced insulin sensitivity, which is why we get diminishing returns in the rate of bodyweight gain as absorption is compromised and no matter how high we push calories, we’re not using that effectively to build good quality tissue anymore, we’re just getting fatter. 

Insulin Sensitivity At Different Body Fat %s
Insulin Sensitivity At Different Body Fat %s

This is the point when we need to consider taking a break from bulking. 


Now, do we need to get lean as shit? No. Do we need to get slightly leaner, yes. Should we enter a calorie deficit? Not really, unless we’re looking to get very lean. 


Essentially what I will do now is cut calories back to maintenance level. This, paired with high intensity training and a high protein content in the diet, will naturally drop bodyweight slightly but not aggressively as to lose muscle tissue. What we will do however is undergo a recomposition where we’ll be chipping away some of that subcutaneous tissue, but also performing an effective “reset” on BMR and insulin sensitivity. 


By doing so, I’ll lean up a little, get back into the range I want to be in and then make my body slightly more receptive to calories so that I can push on again more effectively when it’s time to grow some more. 


This isn’t a cut, it’s just a little reset and something that I recommend you look into if you’ve been bulking a while, not seeing things looking the way you want, but also don’t really want to cut as you’re happier with more size.


So there you go guys, just a little overview of when to stop bulking and why we should do so for a period if we get too high in body fat. Hope this post has been informative, let me know your thoughts too!




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