Good Query: When Are You Too Fats To Bulk?

Good Question: When Are You Too Fat To Bulk? | Legion

Free Shipping & Returns


100% Money-Back Guarantee

Evidence Based

For some time now, bodybuilders and body composition experts have been saying that you shouldn’t bulk (maintain a calorie surplus) unless you’re lean. 

In fact, I’m one of them—in the first edition of Bigger Leaner Stronger (2012), I recommended that men start a bulking phase around 10 percent body fat and women around 20 percent.

Thus, if a guy was, say, 17 percent body fat, I was telling him to cut down to around 10 percent before bulking. And if a gal was in the mid- or high-twenties, I was telling her to get to around 20 percent before trying to maximize muscle and strength gain. (If you aren’t sure how to calculate your body fat percentage, check out this article).


Is that still good advice? Does it still represent the weight of the evidence? 

Yes, for the most part, but not for the same reasons I once believed.

Back then, I explained that beginning a bulk with low body fat levels benefitted us in three ways:

It allowed us to bulk for longer before having to call it quits because of body fatness (eventually we have to stop gaining fat).
It made for shorter post-bulk cuts because we have less fat to lose to get back to our ideal “maintenance bods.” (Mini cuts, basically).
It probably resulted in more muscle gain because our body’s “muscle-building machinery” seems to work better when we’re leaner versus fatter.

And now, my position is essentially unchanged on points one and two, but number three no longer passes muster.

It appears that lower body fat levels (10 to 15 percent in men and 20 to 25 percent in women) don’t meaningfully impact muscle growth rates.

Or, to put it differently, if you’re mostly after gaining muscle and strength, you’re never too fat to bulk.

I won’t bore you with the technical details of why the “lean people gain muscle faster” hypothesis didn’t pan out, but the abstract looks like this:

A series of studies conducted in the 1970s and 1980s on weight gain observed that when people with high body fat levels gained weight, it was mostly fat (not muscle), whereas when people with low body fat levels gained weight, it was mostly muscle and not fat.

In time, evidence-based fitness folk came upon this literature and theorized that this phenomenon may also apply to bodybuilding. And like that, a dictum was born.

The rub, however, is the research didn’t involve people doing resistance training and included people recovering from anorexia (who were often seriously under-muscled).

In fact, in a later review of the data, another team of scientists concluded that once you remove the anorexia studies from the equation, body fatness appeared to have no influence on the composition of weight gain.

Now, there’s still ongoing speculation based on extrapolations from other studies about whether body composition can impair or enhance muscle building, but I’m no longer convinced that it’s a meaningful factor.

What definitely does matter?

Steadily maintaining a slight calorie surplus (about 10% over your total daily energy expenditure).
Eating enough protein (0.8 to 1 gram per pound of body weight per day).
Following a well-designed strength training program that progressively overloads your muscles.
Getting enough rest and recovery (sleeping well, taking a day or two off the weights per week, deloading regularly, limiting cardio, etc.).

And while I still tell people to consider getting lean before bulking for the two reasons given earlier (you’ll probably be happier with how you look, and it usually means longer, more productive bulks and shorter, less obnoxious cuts), it now comes with a rider:

If you’d rather bulk now and cut later—maybe because you feel “skinny fat” or are just excited to eat big and train hard—fire away. You won’t have to contend with anti-anabolic headwinds. 

You will have to execute well on the four points listed above, though, and if you’d like some help there (meal planning, training programming, supplementation, etc.), check out my bestselling fitness books for men and women.

For men trying to gain their first 25 pounds of muscle or get to 10 to 15% body fat, check out Bigger Leaner Stronger.

For women trying to gain their first 15 pounds of muscle or get to 20 to 25% body fat, check out Thinner Leaner Stronger.

For advanced lifters trying to reach their genetic potential for muscle and strength, check out Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger.

These books have helped tens of thousands of people of all ages and circumstances build their best body ever, and they can do the same for you.

Legion Featured Author

Mike Matthews

Mike Matthews is the founder and CEO of Legion as well as a bestselling fitness author of several books, including Bigger Leaner Stronger, Thinner Leaner Stronger, and The Shredded Chef.

His simple and science-based approach to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy has sold over a million books and helped thousands of people build their best bodies ever, and his work has been featured in many popular outlets including Esquire, Men’s Health, Elle, Women’s Health, Muscle & Strength, and more, as well as on FOX and ABC.

If you enjoyed this article, get weekly updates. It’s free.

100% Privacy. We don’t rent or share our email lists.

You May Also Like

Our Most Popular Evidence-Based Articles

Our 100% “It’s-On-Us” Money-Back Guarantee

No matter what you decide to buy, you’re always protected by our ironclad, 100% money-back guarantee that works like this:

If you don’t absolutely love our stuff for whatever reason, you get a prompt and courteous refund. No forms to fill out or hoops to jump through.

That means you can say “yes” now and decide later. You really have nothing to lose.

Sounds Good!

Free Worldwide Shipping & Returns

Many companies use shipping and handling fees to increase their profit margins, but here at Legion, we hate profits so our shipping is 100% free!

Okay, we do dig on profits, but we also go in for happy customers, and free shipping works like gangbusters.

So, if you live in the United States, your order ships free regardless of order size, and if you live anywhere else, your order ships free when it’s over $199.

Why the restriction on international orders? Unfortunately, shipping abroad is very expensive, and if we didn’t require a minimum order size, we’d lose a lot of money.

That said, as most international customers spend about $200 with us each time they shop, this setup is a win-win.

And no matter what you decide to buy, you’re always protected by our ironclad, 100% money-back guarantee that works like this:

If you don’t absolutely love our stuff for whatever reason, you get a prompt and courteous refund. No forms to fill out or hoops to jump through.

That means you can say “yes” now and decide later. You really have nothing to lose.

Sounds Good!

Clinically Effective Doses

Great ingredients aren’t enough to make a great product—you also need correct doses.

That’s why we use the exact doses of every ingredient that have safely produced the desired benefits in peer-reviewed studies.

Sounds Good!

Made in USA

Where your supplements are made matters, because rules and regulations regarding quality and purity differ from country to country.

And if you want to ensure the supplements you’re swallowing every day are safe and effective, you want products produced in the USA.

That’s why all of our supplements are made in America in NSF-certified and FDA-inspected facilities that operate in accordance with the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations.

We pay a premium to work with the best manufacturers in the country, but it’s the only way we can also produce the best all-natural sports supplements.

Sounds Good!

Lab Tested

Did you know that studies have shown that many supplements contain dangerously high levels of toxins like lead, arsenic, and cadmium?

Not ours.

Every ingredient of every supplement we produce is tested for heavy metals, microbes, allergens, and other contaminants to ensure they meet the strict purity standards set by the FDA.

Sounds Good!

Naturally Sweetened & Flavored

While artificial sweeteners may not be as dangerous as some people claim, studies suggest that regular consumption of these chemicals may indeed be harmful to our health and that more research is needed.

That’s why all of our supplements are naturally sweetened and flavored and contain no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

Sounds Good!

Science-Backed Ingredients & Doses

Unlike some supplement companies, we don’t sell dubious white labeled or off-the-shelf formulations.

Instead, our custom and unique formulations are the result of extensive reviews of the scientific literature to discover the most effective ingredients for each.

Sounds Good!

Split your entire online purchase into 4 interest-free payments, over 6 weeks with no impact to your credit.

payment break down 25% today, 25% 2 weeks, 25% 4 weeks, 25% 6 weeks


2 weeks

4 weeks

6 weeks

Step 1 - shop the store

Shop and add items to your cart as normal!

Step 2 - checkout at the store

Choose Sezzle at Checkout! You’ll be redirected to Sezzle to Sign Up or Log In
to complete your order.

Step 3 - Select Sezzle and Sezzleit

Your order will be shipped out right away* and your payments will be split up
over 6 weeks.

*shipping times subject to merchant shipping policy

Shop directory. Reschedule payments. Plus more!

Sounds Good!

Waiver and Release of Liability

In consideration of the services and/or products offered by Legion Athletics, Inc. (“Legion”) including, but not limited to, nutrition plans, exercise routines and coaching, and in addition to the payment of any fee or charge:

I knowingly and voluntarily enter into this waiver and release of liability and hereby waive any and all rights, claims or causes of action of any kind whatsoever arising out of my use of Legion’s services and/or products, and I hereby release and hold harmless Legion and its consultants, officers, contractors, agents, owners and employees from any and all responsibility, liability, cost and expenses, including for injuries, damages or disorders (physical, metabolic, or otherwise), resulting from my use of Legion’s services and/or products.

I understand that fitness activities including, but not limited to, strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular exercise, with or without the use of equipment, are potentially hazardous activities that involve a risk of injury and even death, and I am voluntarily participating in these activities and using equipment and machinery with knowledge of the risks involved. I hereby agree to assume and accept any and all risks of injury or death related to said fitness activities.

I understand Legion’s services and products are not meant to treat or manage any health conditions or circumstances, and I acknowledge that Legion has recommended I obtain a healthcare provider’s approval for my use of Legion’s services and/or products, through regular physical examination(s) and/or consultation. I acknowledge that I have obtained my healthcare provider’s approval or have decided to use Legion’s services and/or products without such approval and hereby assume all responsibility for my use of said services and/or products.

I understand that results from using Legion’s products and/or services are not guaranteed, and I agree to not hold Legion liable for any outcomes or lack thereof.

Sounds Good!


Great! You’re subscribed!

Sounds good!

Looks like you’re already subscribed!

Sounds good!

Security Check

Please click the checkbox below. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Fact Checked

Our scientific review board of nutritionists, dietitians, molecular biologists, doctors, and other accredited experts is responsible for reviewing every article, podcast, and video we produce to ensure they’re evidence based, accurate, trustworthy, and current.

Thanks to their connections, credentials, and academic experience, this team of MDs, PhDs, and other professionals has access to a wealth of research published in the largest and most prestigious journals in the world.

This allows them to not only review individual studies but also analyze the overall weight of the evidence on any and all topics related to diet, exercise, supplementation, and more.

If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, misleading, out-of-date, or anything less than factual, please let us know in the comments section of the article in question.

Sounds Good!

Evidence Based

We follow a detailed, rigorous, multi-step process to create content that meets the highest standards of clarity, practicality, and scientific integrity.

First, our research associates provide our editorial team with accurate, up-to-date, proven scientific evidence.

Then, our editorial team uses this research to draft articles and outlines for podcasts and videos.

Finally, our scientific review board reviews the content to ensure all key information and claims are backed by high-quality scientific research and explained simply and precisely.

If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, misleading, out-of-date, or anything less than factual, please let us know in the comments section of the article in question.

Sounds Good!

Show More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
Does Testogen work?
We look at the science and reviews...
I don't want to know. Close this!