Gaining muscle can be a slow and laborious process. Week by week, month by month, your weight and muscle size imperceptibly increases. You may not even notice that your muscles are getting bigger unless you compare your current progress to that of a few months ago.
But what if such slow progress leaves you feeling frustrated? Or maybe your muscles are barely growing at all? These are common problems and, thankfully, there is a solution – bulking.
Bulking is the process of gaining muscle and weight quickly. Invariably, a bulk involves eating a lot more food than usual. A bulking diet is usually accompanied by a mass-building workout that emphasizes compound exercises and heavy weights.
The combination of more food and intense workouts should lead to a rapid increase in muscle size and strength.
While lifters who bulk invariably get bigger, some of that extra size and weight comes in the form of fat. This is all-but unavoidable. In fact, if you aren’t gaining at least some fat, you aren’t eating enough.
There is more to a successful bulk than eating buckets of takeout chicken and doing set after set of heavy squats and bench presses; get better results with these tried and tested nutrition tips for bulking.
Nutrition Tips for Bulking
Not everyone needs to follow a bulking diet, but it’s especially useful in the following circumstances:
- You are an ectomorph – ectomorphs are naturally slender and have a hard time gaining weight or building muscle. Bulking is one way of the best ways for lean ectomorphs to gain appreciable amounts of muscle mass.
- During the off-season – a lot of sports have an off-season. This is the ideal time to bulk and gain some muscle size and strength. Rugby, hockey, and football players, as well as boxers and martial artists, can benefit from gaining size in the off-season.
- To break up your training year – if you always train and eat the same way, you’ll soon get bored. Bulking and then cutting (dieting off any accumulated fat) adds some variety to your training year, which may help ward off boredom.
- You’re a bodybuilder – bulking comes from the world of competitive bodybuilding. In order to get bigger, bodybuilders bulk for a few months and then cut to drop fat. That way, they continually get bigger. If you are a bodybuilder stuck in a progress rut, bulking will help.
- You want to go up a weight category – a lot of sports are organized into weight categories. If you want to compete in the next heaviest weight category, bulking will get you there. This is how boxers and wrestlers move up the weight categories.
- You just want to give it a try! – bulking is one of those things that a lot of people hear or read about but never try. The best way to learn about bulking by doing it yourself. If you are curious about how and why bulking works, it’s time to put the theory into practice.
Clean Bulking vs. Dirty Bulking
Broadly speaking, there are two ways to bulk – clean or dirty. A clean bulk involves eating mostly healthy foods. You still consume more calories than usual, but those calories come from whole foods rather than processed junk food. Needless to say, a clean bulk is generally healthy.
On the downside, a clean bulk can make eating enough calories much harder as most healthy foods are also lower in calories. You may even find that you cannot consume enough calories eating clean, healthy foods. This is especially true if you are a big person who already eats a lot.
A dirty bulk involves eating more junk food. Takeouts and processed foods are allowed and often eaten in abundance. Dirty bulks are popular because you can eat all the foods that most diets ban. But, on the downside, eating all that junk food won’t be healthy and is more likely to lead to overeating and significant fat gain.
As an advantage, a dirty bulk makes it much easier to consume sufficient calories, which may be useful if you struggle to eat enough food when you follow a cleaner bulk.
For most, the ideal bulking diet is somewhere in-between these clean and dirty options. Eat clean most of the time to ensure your diet is healthy, but then use less healthy foods as necessary to ensure you’re getting enough calories. That way, you’ll cover both your nutritional and your caloric requirements.
How Long Should A Bulk Last?
All good things must come to an end, and that included bulking. If you bulk for too long, you’ll probably just end up getting fat. While you WILL be bigger and stronger, your new muscle mass will be hidden under a layer of blubber, and that’s not a good look.
The length of your bulk depends on how much weight you want to gain, how quickly you build muscle, and how much fat you accumulate. You’ll need to adjust the length of your bulk based on your progress.
A bulk could last as little as a month or as long as three months or more. It all depends on your goals and your progress. Depending on your development, you may bulk 2-3 times per year, separated by cutting phases.
What Should You Do After Bulking?
A successful bulk is usually followed by a cut, which is a fat loss phase of dieting and training. Losing fat while preserving muscle mass will improve your definition, allowing your newly developed muscle mass to shine through.
Cutting diets are usually quite strict and accompanied by a different workout routine. Most cutting plans also involve cardio, circuit training, and other calorie-burning methods. Things like intermittent fasting and keto may also help with fat loss.
Get more from bulking with these handy tips!
Avoid Eating Junk Foods
While it’s okay to consume some junk food in a bulk, the majority of your calories should come from healthy food. Junk food IS a good source of calories, but you also need vitamins, minerals, and protein to build muscle. Make sure 80-90% of your calories come from healthy, nutritious foods, although the occasional burger, slice of pizza, or candy bar won’t hurt and may even help.
Calculate and Ensure You’re Eating Enough to Bulk
One easy way to bulk is just to eat one extra meal and snack per day. This should provide you with the extra calories you need to gain weight and muscle size. However, you’ll get better results from a more prescriptive approach.
Use an online calculator or app and work out your current total daily energy expenditure, or TDEE for short. This will give you the number of calories you need to eat to maintain your current weight. Then, add 500 calories to that number. That’s how much you need to eat during your bulk.
Increase your caloric intake if you aren’t seeing much progress but take care not to gain too much fat too quickly. Fat gained during a bulk will have to be dieted off when you cut.
Consider Shakes and Mass Gainers for Easy Calories
The hardest part about bulking is eating enough food. After a few weeks, you may even find yourself getting bored of eating, eating, and more eating! This is especially true if you only have a small appetite.
A mass gainer shake makes consuming more calories much easier. Just chug down one or two servings per day to increase your calorie intake. Most gainer shakes contain both protein and carbs, but some are also high in sugar. You can make your own or use ready-made shakes as preferred.
Set Realistic Goals
Rather than start bulking with no end in mind, set some realistic goals, and bring your bulk to an end when you reach them.
For example, you could plan to gain 15 pounds or decide to end your bulk when your waist measurement increases by two inches or when your body fat increases by five percent. Monitor your progress and then switch from bulking to maintaining or cutting when you reach your goal.
Consider Calorie Cycling
Calorie cycling can make your bulk more effective. With calorie cycling, you vary your caloric intake from one day to the next to minimize fat gain. For example:
- Monday – 500 calorie surplus
- Tuesday – 750 calorie surplus
- Wednesday – 250 calorie deficit
- Thursday – 1000 calorie surplus
- Friday – maintenance calories
- Saturday – 500 calorie surplus
- Sunday – 250 calorie deficit
Don’t Avoid All Carbs
Low-carb diets are popular and useful for weight loss but not much good for bulking. You need the calories that carbs provide and their energy for longer, more intense workouts. Foods like rice, bread, pasta, potatoes, and oats are great for bulking and can be consumed in abundance. However, when it’s time to start cutting, these are also the foods you should eat less of.
Eat Fiber but Don’t Overdo It
Fiber is a form of indigestible carbohydrate. It’s an important food group for your intestinal health. However, fiber is also very filling, and because it doesn’t contain any calories, it won’t do much for your bulk.
Avoid overdoing your fiber intake, especially if you find eating enough food difficult. Do this by eating the white version of most of your carbs (white bread, rice, pasta) and avoiding the wholegrain versions.
Reconsider Fasting During This Time
Bulk is not the time to start experimenting with intermittent fasting. In fact, it’s the opposite of what you need right now. Missing a meal, even on purpose, could make your bulk less productive. Instead, set an eating schedule and stick to it. This is the time to eat three square meals and three snacks per day. Save fasting for your cut.
Cut Down on the Cardio
While a few 20 to 30-minute cardio workouts per week can be beneficial, more cardio than that is a waste of energy during a bulk. Cardio burns the calories you’re working so hard to consume more of. Instead, try to conserve your energy by training hard but then being as sedentary as you can between workouts.
Don’t Bulk if You’re Already Overweight
Bulking usually means gaining muscle and fat. If you are already overweight, you should do a cut before even thinking about bulking. Gaining even more fat could be unhealthy.
Providing you don’t bulk yourself into being overweight, or eat too much unhealthy junk food, bulking can and should be a safe process. After all, you’re just going to eat more food and train harder.
However, if you gain so much fat you become obese or eat too much junk food, you could put your health at risk. Most junk foods are high in salt, sugar, and trans fats and low in beneficial nutrients. Overeating junk food could increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and other nutrition and weight-related disorders.
If you are stuck in a muscle-building rut, bulking can help. Bodybuilders use bulking to gain muscle quickly, and athletes use it to increase their strength or move up a weight category or two, usually during the off-season. Recreational exercisers can use bulking to break up their training year and avoid boredom.
In simple terms, bulking involves eating more food than usual and following a muscle-building workout plan. A bulking diet can be clean and healthy or may involve eating a lot of junk food. In most cases, a clean bulk is best as it’s healthier. However, even on a clean bulk, some junk food may be useful, especially if you are struggling to consume enough calories.
Before starting a bulking diet, you should have a clear-cut idea of what you want to achieve and when you’re going to bring your bulk to a close. Perma-bulking is never a good idea and can lead to serious fat gain. Make sure you stop your bulk before you become dangerously overweight.
Bulking isn’t for everyone. If you are currently overweight, gaining more fat won’t do you any favors. However, if you’re relatively lean and want to build muscle fast, a properly planned and well-executed bulk will help.