Bulking and shredding: weights aren’t all you need for bodybuilding

Bulking and shredding: weights aren’t all you need for bodybuilding
Getting a competition ready body takes more than just lifting big. Photo: Skeeze, Pixabay

If you’re a bodybuilder, or someone who does weight training for aesthetic reasons (i.e. to look good rather than for sport or work) then you’ve most likely heard of bulking and shredding before. Essentially it’s a process of spending a few months trying to gain muscle mass (bulking) followed by losing fat (shredding).

The bulking phase is fairly simple – lift big and eat bigger. Yes, you will probably gain some fat along with the muscle, but that’s what shredding is for. The second stage is a lot more complicated – you need to find a way to lose fat along with minimal muscle loss. According to Muscle Review, achieving this is hard, so it’s no wonder many turn to supplements such as an ECA fat burner stack.

How to bulk

To add a lot of muscle in a reasonably short space of time you need to eat a lot of protein, fats and carbs, as well as lift a lot of heavy weights. To build muscle you need to eat more energy than your body uses, as well as stimulating growth hormones – and that means you will spend a lot of time working out, either in the gym or at home.

It’s very difficult not to gain a bit of fat on this diet, and that’s not a bad thing – when you gain fat you know you are building as much muscle as possible. Gaining a bit of extra fat is also fine if it is proportional – if you have 10% body fat and gain 10 kilos, including 1 kg of fat, your body composition will stay the same.

You should also focus on building muscle all over your body in this phase, as your bulking period is the time when you will have the best results. This means lots of free weight training, with squats, deadlifts, bench press and other Olympic lifts forming the basis of your workout.

How to bulk
Deadlifting is a good muscle building exercise. Photo: Skeeze, Pixabay

You can go for a run occasionally if it makes you feel better, but generally you are best off avoiding cardio – it will slightly inhibit your muscle growth.

In terms of supplements, in the bulking period you are best off with protein shakes after you work out to maximise your muscle growth. If you want a bit of an extra boost then creatine is also good, as it will help your muscles recover.

How to shred

Shredding is a lot more difficult than bulking, as it is much harder to lose fat without burning muscle than it is to build muscle while also gaining fat. Over your shredding phase you are likely to lose a little bit of strength, however if you do it right you can also shed a lot of fat.

In this period you should ramp up your cardio, in particular resistance cardio (such as HIIT training and weighted running). This will get your heart rate high and keep you burning energy. You also want to continue with your weights training, but not as intensively. You also shouldn’t be surprised if your maximum lifts come down a bit.

Some good cardio exercises that will still activate the muscles you spent so long building are rowing and kettlebell workouts, along with plain bodyweight training. You can take this opportunity to tone your muscles as well as losing fat. Pure cardio activities, like running, are also very good for burning fat.

How to shred
Running is a good activity for shredding. Photo: StockSnap, Pixabay

You should eat lots of lean protein (white meat and fish, along with vegetable proteins) and try to cut carbs wherever you can. A ketogenic diet is ideal for shredding, and the protein will help you to maintain your muscle mass and lose as little as possible. To lose weight you need to eat less energy than you burn, so you need to be careful with your diet.

In terms of supplements protein shakes are still good, but if you were mixing them with milk while you bulked then swap to water. You can also keep taking creatine – it doesn’t stimulate growth or give you energy, and might help you to push through your workouts. Many people also use ECA stacks to suppress their appetite and stimulate metabolism.

What is an ECA stack?

An ECA stack involves taking three (perfectly legal) substances to suppress your appetite and increase your metabolic rate – ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin. Ephedrine is a stimulant that also prevents low blood pressure, and is often used during surgeries and to treat nasal allergic reactions. Caffeine is a stimulant, most commonly found in coffee. Aspirin is a blood thinner and painkiller.

In Australia ephedrine is a prescription only medication, as it is one of the primary ingredients in the production of methamphetamine. If you can’t get your hands on it then caffeine and aspirin will still help to control your appetite and raise your metabolic rate, but not as effectively.

Bulking and shredding is a process that requires lots of dedication and commitment, especially if you have a bodybuilding competition coming up. In this instance you should start four months out, and give yourself two months of bulking followed by two months of shredding – ramping up the intensity of your weight loss efforts in the last week.

It will take you a lot of effort, but if you do it right you will end your bulk and shred cycle both stronger and with less body fat than before you started. Managing the diet can be tough (well, in the shredding stage – the bulking diet is actually pretty fun), as is the exercise schedule, but you will almost certainly be closer to your ideal body when you finish.