Bulk vs Shred – Which is Best For You?

Bulk vs Shred – Which is Best For You?

Bulk vs Shred – Which is Best For You


Most body building plans fall into two major categories “shred/cut” or “bulk/build”. Both styles of workout plans have their place to obtain a well-balanced physique (muscular and lean). Each type of training has a very different goal so that means each has a different training and nutrition paradigm to accomplish the goal of putting on muscle or burning fat. There is a third type of a plan the “transformation” which claims to do both. I will cover the basics of each and help you decide which will works best for your next program.

Muscle Builders or Bulking


The main goal of these programs is to add muscle mass and strength, typically these programs last around 3-4 months and usually people do them in the winter months. However, I have trained with several people who spend about half the year in a bulking phase and then move to an intense shred for a few months then into a more maintenance type program though the summer “swimsuit season”.

The key to muscle building plans is having a surplus of clean calories for your body to synthesize new muscle tissue. If you are in a state of caloric deficit (like a low-calorie diet) you cannot create new muscle tissue.

For your body to create new muscle it needs to have that muscle overworked/damaged, which is what we do in the gym. Then after the gym when you are resting in your recovery stage you need to supply your body with lots of lean protein to breakdown into basic amino acids and then rebuild them into new muscle tissue.  Your body needs so many calories a day just to function properly then throw in intense weight lifting you will now need quite a bit of food to be in a caloric surplus to enable muscle synthesis.

For the average male this can be anywhere between 3,500 – 4,500 calories a day to enable muscle growth.

The training program is typically build around a full body split where you train a different muscle group every day 5-6 days a week. I will talk about weightlifting splits in my next post, so stayed tuned!

Each weightlifting session typically last about an hour and then depending on your goals a small amount of cardio maybe 10-15 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training cardio on a stair master or treadmill or none.

Then on your rest days you do some form of active rest, I usually recommend doing something outside of the gym like surfing, skiing, yoga, hiking or biking. Something fun but gets you moving around but not intended to be a marathon race or anything like that.



Pros –

  • Add muscle
  • Increase strength
  • Less time consuming because of little to no cardio
  • Large range of foods to choose from and never hungry


Cons –

  • Add body fat
  • Difficult to eat so many clean calories in a day

Muscle building plans are a great way to add muscle and strength if you are willing to accept a little bump in body fat. However, don’t worry because the next type of plan will take care of that and revel all that newly gained muscle.


Shred or Fat Burning


The main goal of a shred is to lose weight by burning body fat but maintaining muscle mass. The big difference between what bodybuilders do for shreds and what I see most people to for general weight loss programs,  is the shred will keep your hard-earned muscle while typical fat loss programs lose body weight indiscriminately between muscle and fat .

Shreds for most people are shorter programs ranging from 4-8 weeks and are usually quite intense both on the training and nutrition plan.

Opposite of the bulk the shred is based on being in a caloric deficit to enable your body to burn fat for fuel. To accomplish this a low calorie and low carbohydrate diet is required. There are many versions of low carb diets, but the idea is generally similar with higher protein, low to no carbs and moderate to high fat.

For the average male this can be anywhere between 1,500 – 2,500 calories a day to enable the body to burn fat.

Along with this type of diet a weight training plan that is a similar style to a bulk will be done in a shred to maintain muscle mass. However typically one will not have the same energy or strength level, so the amount of weight lifted for each exercise comes down some, rest periods also decrease, and reps go up during a shred. This keeps the cardio higher through the weight lifting session and burns more calories.

Cardio is vastly different in a shred depending on the program, you may be doing steady state cardio (around 60-70% of your max heart rate) once to twice a day and generally the sessions range from 30 minutes to 1 hour

Pros –

  • Lose body fat fast
  • Increase in cardiovascular fitness
  • Shorter programs

Cons –

  • Larger time commitment in the gym
  • Difficult to eat low calorie and especially very low to no carbs
  • People are often grouchy and more on edge during a shred because of being in a calorie deficient state

Shred plans a great way to lose significant amount of body fat while keeping muscle, however be prepared for the stricter diet and more gym time (1.5-2 hours a day).

The Third Style – Transformation Plans


So there is a third type of plan you see advertised all over TV and social media, these are plans that you lose weight, add muscle and do it all in 6 weeks or something stupid like that. Let’s be honest for a minute if getting ripped was easy everyone would do it, so if it seems too good to be true likely its bull shit.

I have tried several of these transformations plans and in general they all do the same thing slightly move the needle for both. Why? As I explained above if you only do a shred your body is in a deficit, which means your body will not spend energy and resources building something new when it’s in a state of scarcity. So, some have you cycle between states or try to do a quick bulk like plan then go into more of a shred the second half.

The closest plan I have seen to this actually working is one from Kris Gethin (8-week Hardcore Trainer Reboot – https://www.kagedmuscle.com/blogs/8-week-hardcore-trainer/overview-program ) which basically has a muscle building front end and a shred back end, but all done in 8 weeks’ time. It’s intense and does work, so if you are only going to give 8 weeks to your fitness journey or have an upcoming wedding/event you want to do quickly, then that’s the one to try. For those who want to make a larger more meaningful change in their physique I recommend start with a full muscle builder plan 12-16 week and then go to full shred program of 8 weeks.


Which is Right For You?


Time to be honest with yourself, are you currently on the skinnier side or on the heavier side. If you are overweight but want to lose fat and add muscle I would recommend losing the excess body fat first via a shred plan, then once leaner move to a muscle building/strength plan.

However, on the flip side of you are skinnier are just “average” size then I would start with a muscle builder plan. Develop your strength and add muscle first then do a shred to remove the body fat, this additional muscle will help burn the fat latter and enable better more intense work outs.

This goes for both men and women, if you shred down and get to low body fat percentage what will show, will you just look skinny? If that is your goal fine, but most people want a well-balanced physique which means some muscle to show underneath (which for most is a wanting abs). A lot of woman are afraid of getting bulk or looking manly so they stray from muscle building however if you look at bikini and fitness models they all have nice “toned” physiques which still have a very feminine yet fit quality.

So, I encourage everyone to build muscle and strength to their desired level but skipping that step male or female will leave you looking flat and likely not what you had in mind. Also, don’t forgot having muscle and improved strength improves your quality of life, you can perform better at your favorite activities/sports, keep up with your kids and it plays a critical role in the aging process.

Bryan Tayefeh
1 Comment
  • Alicia Rose
    Posted at 18:03h, 10 January

    Great article!