If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either bulking or cutting. The constant bulk and cut cycle seems to be an assumed mainstay in this fitness niche of ours, but how many of us have ever stopped to consider whether this is broscience dogma passed down without speculation, much like a religion? We want that Greek statue aesthetic for life, so why do we choose to subject ourselves to a constant state of only chipping away at half of that goal at any given time, never truly satisfied for more than maybe a minuscule window of a couple weeks, if that? Let’s think outside the bro-box for a few moments.
Daily Undulating Periodization
Most of us have heard of, and possibly utilized, “daily undulating periodization” with regards to training; in order to achieve multiple goals, such as strength AND hypertrophy, one can (and, arguably, should) alternate between various rep ranges throughout every week or two of training sessions to develop both capacities. Sure, this can be done in alternating periods of months as well, but if you’re truly in this for the long haul, why not gradually chase both simultaneously, the alternating focus within the same month, or even week, to make AND keep consistent gains across every part of the spectrum at all times?
This way, muscle size goes up, strength goes up, and they give each other tiny boosts, all at the same time, without having to fall behind on the adaptations of one while focusing on the other for months at a time. Granted, this means slower progress, but again, if you’re in this for the long haul, it really doesn’t matter when the payoff is a complete consummation of attained goals all wrapped up in one package you can maintain for life.
Now… re-read the above paragraph and pretend I’m talking about nutrition.
Enter Daily Undulating Diet Periodization
We’ve all heard the ever-revered declaration that one cannot build muscle and lose fat at the same time beyond “newbie gains”. Yet several highly successful individuals in the industry do just that – staying lean, defined, healthy, and strong, all year, every year – physique competitors, powerlifters, and non-competitive athletes alike.
For example, Pauline Nordin, former physique competitor and founder of Fighter Diet, has maintained near-stage-condition for around a decade, never more than a couple pounds and a spray tan away from the package she brings to her photo shoots, despite the disadvantage of her short-and-chunky genetics. You’ll never hear the words “bulk” OR “cut” cross her lips unless in speaking of her distaste of the concept.
These ever-lean wonders simply approach their nutrition a bit differently: short-term periodization of calories/macros, or the more commonly-recognized term with regards to nutrition, “zig-zagging”. The reason one cannot technically, literally build muscle AND burn fat at the same time is that the former requires a caloric surplus, while the latter requires a deficit.
Obviously, one cannot eat fewer calories and more calories at the same time. However, one CAN, say, eat at a deficit for a few days, then spend a day or two at a “bulking” intake, take advantage of the super-compensation and let the muscles soak up those calories and do a little growing, then drop back down into depletion, rinse and repeat. We’re still not technically building muscle and burning fat at the same time, but we certainly CAN do both of those things in much shorter, nearly simultaneous intervals with this type of approach, much like we can with strength and hypertrophy periodization in our training.
Again, just like with training, body composition progress will indeed come more slowly this way, but again: it’s the long haul. Would you rather constantly be in a state of limbo with your physique, building muscle but too jiggly for your liking for 3 months, followed by getting shredded but losing all that hard-earned muscle by the time you can see it, then repeating in a neverending cycle of half-satisfaction for decades, OR spend some solid years chipping away at your muscle goals and your leanness goals a little at a time, refining your body until you’ve reached a literal nirvana of near-perfection which you can then maintain (with little improvements, of course… artists are never satisfied) with the same approach for the rest of your life?
Not to mention the health benefits; constant bulking and cutting isn’t far removed from the “yo-yo dieting” we know to wreak havoc on metabolism and body fat set-point; plus, plateaus can be avoided quite effectively by eliminating the usual long, drawn-out deficits which drive the metabolism down and make fat loss progressively harder to come by.
Diet Periodization Guidelines?
Of course, as with every other aspect of this lifestyle, there are no concrete guidelines with diet periodization, and trial-and-error is necessary for every individual; you may need more deficit days and only one surplus day per week if your body is a real survivor, a surplus every couple days, or consecutive surplus days broken by only a day or two in a deficit lest your ectomorphic skeleton toss your muscle… the tweaks are endless, and it may take a long time to refine your approach to be most beneficial to you and your genetics.
But the general idea is to facilitate some fat burning and some muscle building each week on different days. There are countless tools in the box you could employ concurrently to really Picasso this mechanism, such as coordinating your caloric cycles with your training (surplus days on your hardest training days to maximize use of those calories, etc) or integrated into other diet manipulations such as carb cycling (scaling your carb intake proportionately so that refeeds coincide with surplus days, both concepts maximizing each other, etc), but that is a subject for another article or three!