As a parent, you want your teenager to be fit and healthy. So, going to the gym and lifting weights is generally seen as a good thing. But, if your son has expressed an interest in building muscle, you may have concerns about the bulking and cutting cycle that is regularly promoted by the fitness industry and often associated with muscle building. It’s something we hear about frequently when we speak with teen boys and their parents.
In this blog post, we'll explore what bulking and cutting are, why it isn’t suitable for teenagers, and how to support your son's muscle-building goals in a healthy way.
What are bulking and cutting?
Bulking and cutting are two phases of a muscle-building regimen that involve manipulating calorie intake to increase muscle growth and minimize body fat. During the bulking phase, a person increases their calorie intake and focuses on weightlifting to build muscle mass. The cutting phase involves decreasing calorie intake to reduce body fat and accentuate the muscles that were built during the bulking phase.
Is bulking and cutting appropriate for teenagers?
Bulking and cutting may be common, but it doesn’t mean it is necessary or appropriate, especially for teenagers. Teenagers are still growing and developing, and their bodies have unique nutritional needs. Excessive calorie restriction or overconsumption can be harmful, affecting hormone health, growth, and development. It also may impact mental health, and lead to eating disorders or muscle dysmorphia (the idea that your body is smaller and less muscly than it actually is).
It's important for teenagers to focus on overall health and fitness rather than solely on building muscle.
How can parents support their teenager's muscle-building goals in a healthy way?
If your son is interested in building muscle, there are several ways you can support him in a healthy way:
1. Help him understand how to fuel his goals. If he wants to build muscle, knowing how to fuel in and around training is key.
2. Get the foundations right. Young athletes’ bodies are under construction, to build a solid foundation a balanced and varied diet that includes protein, carbohydrates, colour and healthy fats is essential for muscle building and overall health and wellbeing.
3. Steer clear of muscle-building supplements: Bulk powder, creatine, BCAAs and pre-workout powders are all highly marketed for muscle growth. But, many are unregulated and can be harmful, and they are not suitable for teenagers.
4. Encourage a good sleep routine. Muscles are breaking down and rebuilding to become stronger and bigger. Sleep is an important part of this. 8-10 hours a night is recommended and will do more good than any supplement!
5. Be aware that bulking and cutting cycles and excessive focus on body composition or weight isn’t healthy and is associated with symptoms of eating disorders: Be aware of any changes in your son's eating habits or body image and seek professional help if necessary. BEAT is the UK’s eating disorder charity and has great information and support.
If you help your teenager nail the basics and understand better how to fuel for their goals, then they don’t have to force themselves into a shred phase and it can make it all a bit easier and less stressful on their body. We are here to help you fuel your teenager’s goals.
1. Ganson, K.T., Cunningham, M.L., Pila, E. et al. “Bulking and cutting” among a national sample of Canadian adolescents and young adults. Eat Weight Disord 27, 3759–3765 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-022-01470-y
2. American Academy of Paediatrics. (2016). Body Image and Eating Disorders. Paediatrics, 138(3), e20161649. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-1649
3. Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(3), 543-568. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852
4. Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., & Norton, L. E. (2014). Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1),