Bodybuilders often consume lots of calories and train very intensely during a bulking cycle to build as much muscle as possible. When the bulking cycle is complete, the bodybuilder will have gained several pounds of muscle and a little fat due to excessive calorie intake. A cutting cycle includes lower caloric intake and cardiovascular exercise to burn excess fat and reveal newly gained muscle. Bodybuilders will often undertake a cutting cycle in preparation for a competitive event.
At first, it may seem counterintuitive to bulk up by eating a lot and gaining fat along with muscle. Bodybuilders do this because it is extremely difficult to build significant amounts of muscle while losing fat at the same time. Building muscle, especially the pounds of muscle that bodybuilders strive for, requires taking in more calories than are expended through exercise. Losing fat requires taking in less calories than are expended through exercise. Since achieving these two goals require opposite mechanisms, most people find it easier to follow bulking with cutting cycles.
Bodybuilders approach a cutting cycle by restricting calories, often drastically. Usually, carbohydrates, or carbs, and fat are also restricted, while protein consumption is maintained in the belief that eating protein will prevent muscle mass from being lost during the cycle. Sometimes bodybuilders will cycle their carbohydrates, meaning they cut carb levels for several days, followed by a day where carbohydrate intake is increased. The purpose of carb cycling is to provide the body with energy for intense workouts while keeping net carb consumption low.
During a cutting cycle, workout intensity is maintained or even increased. Since the body is taking in fewer calories than it is expending, it’s possible to lose a little muscle while losing fat. Bodybuilders want to minimize this effect. Maintaining strength workout intensity keeps the body from allowing muscles to atrophy during this phase. Bodybuilders will add cardiovascular exercise to burn as many calories as possible.
Some bodybuilders will add amino acid supplements, like glutamine, during a cutting cycle to help with protein synthesis and maintain muscle mass. Nearly all bodybuilders will supplement with protein powders and protein drinks If a bodybuilder utilizes anabolic steroids to build and maintain muscle, he or she may use a special combination of steroids during a cutting cycle to retain muscle and maximize fat loss.
During the days just prior to a competitive bodybuilding event, sometimes a cutting cycle becomes even more extreme so that all the striations and definition of the muscles are highly visible. Bodybuilders may restrict water for certain periods of time prior to the event. They may pump the muscles by exercising and pulling blood into the muscles to make them appear bigger.