You should get close to single digit body fat percentage before aiming to gain weight
By Dimitris Ioakeimidis
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For those of you who have spent time and energy frequenting various fitness forums you would have, at some point, come across the common topic of ‘should I bulk or cut’?
I have noticed the lack of a clear and consistent way forward on this topic and the result is often general confusion on whether individuals should start dieting or, alternatively, overfeeding with aim to either loose or gain weight, respectively.
It is important to make the point that there is a difference between an increase or decrease in the reading on your bathroom scale and achieving a healthier body and a better physique. The most important factor is not how much weight you gain in total, but how much of this weight is fat and how much is Lean Body Mass (LBM). Thus, achieving a better physique aligns with the concept of having a greater lean body mass to fat percentage ratio.
It is illogical to believe that having more muscle and less fat results in a better physique and that it is not possible to achieve the same by doing the reverse. There are a number of factors that influence one’s ability to achieve their goal of obtaining a better physique. Key amongst those is finding a training regime that suits you and beginning a dietary program that one can maintain. However, there is also one crucial factor that most people either neglect or are unaware of and that is the Partitioning Ratio (P-ratio).
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The Partitioning Ratio (P-ratio) represents the amount of LBM you gain in comparison to the fat you gain. There are many factors that affect the ratio but the primary factor is the starting body fat percentage when trying to increase your LBM. Without trying to get into too much technical detail, the P-ratio leads into the following conclusion:
“The leaner you are the more muscle you tend to loose and the fatter you are the more fat you tend to loose while dieting. On the opposite side, the leaner you are the more muscle you tend to gain and the fatter you are the most fat you tend to gain.”
There are publications backing up this theory with trials showcasing that most of the gains thin people made were lean body mass comparing to obese people which which the biggest percentage of their gains where fat. But does this applies in real life to individuals who are not obese but they are marginally, clinically overweight instead ? The answer is yes, it does and my personal experience has shown me that if you want to maximize the LBM — FAT % ration, you should attempt to get as close to singe digit body fat percentage as possible.
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Avoid falling into the trap of what i call the “Bulk…pause…Cut” cycle
This is where you commence a bulking cycle and then break or pause it in the middle, switching to a cutting cycle because you wish to avoid looking overweight. To be more specific, during your journey of gaining lean body mass you will inevitably gain fat along the way. This will undoubtedly increase your existing fat weight. Every individual has a theoretical limit of how much fat their body can “tolerate” without feeling the need to loose weight. You need to be able to break through that mental barrier where your mind tells you to stop your weight gain phase because it is no longer a fun-filled adventure and makes you want to revert to a cycle of loosing weight. If you lose focus and do this you will just negate all the progress you have made and it will feel like you’re going nowhere. Actually, if you think about it, that makes sense because when you look at the mirror you see a different body from what you have imagined in first place, you may have gain some muscles but the fat covers all the glory that you hide beneath it.
On the other hand, if you make the effort to get into the `sweet spot` which is about 10–12% for men and 19–24% for women, you will inevitably benefit from achieving a better P-ratio and thus, more margin to increase your “fat tolerance limits”. Combining this with short bulking cycles of 8–12 weeks, and good nutrition will put you in the best position to achieve your goals without succumbing to self-doubt.
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Gaining LBM should be all about having fun, eating frequenlty and getting your body to overcome its limits. Do not loose focus by getting into bulk-pause-cut cycle trap during your LBM journey. Get as close to a single digit body fat percentage as possible or reach the sweet spot of 10–12% for men and 19–24% for women.
Getting into the single fat percentage zone is not a 100% guarantee that you will put on a huge amount of muscle later on, but what It guarantees is that you are gonna feel and look better and finally achieve a constant progress towards a leaner, healthier and fitter physique.
Every time that you bulk or cut you should consider, how much of your weight is FAT and how much is LBM? The bathroom scale is not as comprehensive an indicator as your mirror and tape measure!!
Finally, feeling good and looking lean while trying to gain weight is a long and fun process but yet rewarding. Whereas, trying to get leaner (loosing excess body fat) is shorter and painful process but yet more rewarding.