"Is it better to slim down, cut fat and then lean bulk or to bulk first then cut down?” -Julian
That’s an interesting question and the answer is really contingent on a number of different variables. In my opinion, the decision to either focus on losing weight or gaining muscle really depends on your current status. By that I mean, what your body is like upon starting to train/diet. Are you very over weight with no prior experience with weight training? Are you very lean with experience with exercise, such as running? Do you have a moderate physique with training experience? No training experience? These are all factors that must be considered when trying to answer this question, and once you have those answers, it is then easier to come to a logical conclusion on which route to take.
The suggestions that follow are as such. They are simply suggestions based on critical thinking on the subject. These suggestions are what I think is the best mode of action after consideration of the variables that apply to your body. The only suggestion that I think is constant across any variable is that you should make a decision and stick with it. If you come to the conclusion that you want to lose weight, then stick to it for more than two weeks. If you come to the decision that you want to gain muscle and/or lots of strength, then you should train accordingly and stick to it. Either route will not be easy. I’ll be the first to admit that. There is no special “pill” (apart from steroids) that will cause you to miraculously put on muscle or lose fat in a couple weeks time. That being said, commit to something and keep going, even in the face of adversity. Too often people try something and don’t put in enough time and effort to see real results and then they assume it “just doesn’t work for them.” Don’t be that person.
“Im very over weight with little to no training experience”
For this route, my suggestion is to focus on losing weight first. As someone who was overweight, this is a struggle that is near and dear to me. Being overweight means that you are carrying too much extra fat around, and as such, in order to eventually see meaningful increases in muscle, you need to shed the body fat. Chances are, if you’re very overweight, you are eating way too much. It will likely be very easy for you to drop some bodyweight by coupling a training program with a drop in total food intake. I also think that dropping body fat first, will allow you to understand what you are capable of. Most people, especially ones that are overweight feel as though they are trapped. There is a sense of shame that goes along with being overweight that goes deeper than the scale. In my experience, I often knew in my heart that I really wanted to be in shape (and I still feel this) but I felt like I was trapped and no attempt to lose weight “could help me.” By sticking to a training program and specifically focusing on losing weight, once successful, you’ll understand that you ARE capable of taking control of your life. You ARE capable of seeing results. This visible change, especially for the overweight person, will likely only come from losing body fat at this point. I say this because, if your plan is to gain muscle, chances are, you won’t be able to truly see what you’ve done to your body, considering there is a ton of fat present. I think that once you’ve dropped the body fat, then you can make the decision whether or not you want to start slowly adding calories in and training for strength/muscle. Also, I believe that only after you successfully diet, you’ll have a better understanding about how everything works in terms of weight management, and you’ll have a reason to keep yourself in check when it comes to eating while gaining muscle. Finally, your body is much better at gaining muscle when there is less fat present. your hormones will respond differently due to training and your change in diet and any increase in food has a greater possibility of working towards repairing/building muscle, rather than storing fat.
“I’m a lean person with some exercise experience.”
Chances are, this person doesn’t have a lot of fat/weight to lose in the first place. As such, it may be a better route to focus primarily on increasing strength and muscle. However, a lean person with exercise experience needs to be cognizant of the fact that it may be difficult to rapidly put on muscle, like they expect. Yes, if you have no prior resistance training experience you’ll likely see rapid gains in terms of strength and then some muscle to follow. However, you have to remember that your body has likely remained in a lean state for quite sometime. Your body is used to certain food intakes and energy demands. Considering this, you should set meaningful and attainable goals. Unless you are a genetic freak, chances are that you’ll have a hard time packing on 50 lbs of muscle in a calendar year. My suggestion is to figure out your maintenance macronutrient intake and then on training days, eat slightly above maintenance (such as 500 calories coming from all of the macronutrients) and then return to maintenance calories on non training days. Further, for the training days, carefully monitor the changes in your physique and the scale and attempt to slowly add in more and more calories. This way, you can start to slowly increase your caloric intake and allow for even more muscle growth. This will also allow for when the time comes to start a fat loss diet, you’ll have a lot of room to work with, and you’ll be able to diet on a ton of calories (which if you can, will be awesome).
“I have a moderate physique with/without training experience”
This situation can go either way. It really just depends on what goal is most important to you. Do you really want to drop some body fat, and don’t really care about how much muscle you have? Then the best route will be the one that you’re willing to stick to. The same goes for the opposite. Do you want tons of muscle? Then it may be a good idea for you to train and eat in a way to achieve that result. The only thing that I suggest is to take into account the suggestions that I wrote about in the previous section. Do it slowly and slowly increase you food to in turn, increase your capacity for fat loss in the future. The same idea holds true for the weight loss as well. It is in your best interest to lose weight by having meaningful decreases in calories, but not all at once. This way you can allow yourself to effectively lose weight in a moderate amount of time, but also give you room to continue dropping intake, once you hit a plateau.
All in all, it depends on your current circumstances when asking whether you should cut or bulk first. After considering YOUR variables, make the decision on which route to take. Once the decision is made, stick with that decision. If you put time and effort into one goal, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to achieve that goal, rather than trying to juggle 3 or 4 all at once.