The Death of Bulking

I’m sure you’ve heard of the bulking protocol where you don’t count any macros or calories, and just eat everything in sight.

You aim to take in as many calories as possible, not worrying much about where these calories are coming from.

“Eat big to get big”, right?

Alright look — I get it.

You are probably thinking…

Eat lots of food.

Drink a few protein shakes.

Workout a few times per week.

And you will grow muscle effectively…

But unfortunately, haphazardly approaching your diet, where you simply stuff your face with a bunch of calories in hopes of gaining muscle, is a surefire way to pack on a lot of fat — and quickly.

Seriously — we need to get control over our diets.

And no, I’m not talking about eating cleaner foods, or anything like that…

 

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More Does Not Mean Better

Now yes, it’s true that you’ll want to be eating in a caloric surplus to maximize muscle growth. A caloric surplus provides your body with the extra energy that is needed to build new muscle tissue.

If you under-eat, you simply won’t have the necessary fuel to build any significant amount of muscle.

People seem to get the idea that if a small caloric surplus builds a certain amount of muscle, then a larger caloric surplus will equate to more muscle.

Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work this way.

You have to understand that muscle growth is a slow and gradual process.

It takes time.

It requires you to be consistent.

And you will have to learn to be patient.

Trying to force yourself to grow faster by consuming an excessive amount of food will do more harm than good, and you’ll end up shooting yourself in the foot long-term.

 

The Rate of Muscle Growth — How Much Can You Expect To Gain?

We know that it’s only possible to build a limited amount of muscle in a given time frame (assuming you are a natural trainee).

Your rate for potential muscle growth is largely dependent on your training experience.

Alan Aragon has put together a model that shows us rates of lean body mass gain that can expected based on training status:

Beginner (less than 2 years consistent training)

= Monthly gain of 1 – 1.5% total body weight

Intermediate (2-4 years consistent training)

= Monthly gain of 0.5 – 1% total body weight

Advanced (more than 4 years consistent training)

= Monthly gain of 0.25 – 0.5% total body weight

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As you can see, your rate of potential muscle growth starts to drop off and slow down as you become more advanced and gain training experience.

 

How Much Should You Eat To Gain Muscle?

Think of it this way – you really have two options when it comes to gaining muscle:

Option 1) Eat in a large surplus and gain weight very fast.

Gain all the potential muscle you could — but also a lot of fat.

Option 2) Control your caloric surplus and gain weight at the rate of muscle gain.

​​​​​​​Still gain maximal muscle — but put on very little fat.

 

The approach that I like to use with with both myself, and my clients is option 2 — what is considered a ‘lean gaining’ approach.

With a “lean gaining” approach, you can:

  • Still build muscle at or very close to your maximum potential
  • Avoid putting on unnecessary amounts of body fat
  • Maintain a high degree of insulin sensitivity
  • Maintain high testosterone levels and optimal hormone levels
  • Minimize the amount of time you’ll have to spend dieting later on to drop any unwanted fat gain

Essentially, the goal is to effectively gain muscle (perhaps at a fractionally slower rate), but with very little additional fat gain.

Because the truth is, you don’t necessarily need to ‘eat big to get big’ – you just have to eat enough.

How Much Is Enough?

It depends on how fast you are looking to gain.

If you’re a beginner trainee, you’ll be able to add muscle at a faster rate than someone who has an advanced training status, so it will make sense for you to aim to gain weight slightly quicker — in which case you may want to utilize a slightly higher caloric surplus to support that gain.

Now there is a general rule that it takes a 3500 calories to lose 1 pound of fat and gain 1 pound of muscle. While a 1 pound gain won’t be 100% muscle (we should expect some of the weight to be fat, glycogen, water) it is a good guideline to use.

So if you are aiming to gain 2 pounds over the course of a month, you’re going to need roughly 7000 calories of additional energy.

(3500 x 2) = 7000 calorie surplus per month

We can then divide that by 4 weeks:

(7000/4) = 1750 calorie surplus per week

Next, we can divide by 7 days to figure out how big the surplus should be each day:

(1750/7) = 250 calorie surplus per day

This means you need an average of a 250 calorie surplus each day throughout the week.

Does it need to be exactly the same each day?

No, you don’t necessarily need to spread this evenly across all days of the week.

Training days could have higher calories, with rest days having less. As long as your intake averages out over the course of the week, so that you are getting the required surplus of calories, you’ll have the necessary fuel to grow muscle.

 

The Dangers of Gaining Too Quickly

Gaining fat too quickly isn’t just bad for ‘aesthetic’ purposes, but it also further accelerates fat storage and can hinder muscle growth.

As you accumulate more body fat, your hormonal state will start to shift so that it is working against you, rather than for you.

  1. Insulin sensitivity goes down.

Insulin is a hormone that shuttles nutrients into muscle cells.

The better your body responds to the release of insulin, the more it can harness it’s powerful effects to build muscle and resist fat gain.

But as insulin sensitivity drops, and you become resistant to insulin, you’ll have an increased likelihood to store fat and an impaired ability to store carbohydrates in the muscle.

This is of course bad news, and why you want to maintain a high level of insulin sensitivity.

  1. Testosterone levels drop & estrogen levels rise.

Testosterone is not only an important hormone for building muscle, but also for general well-being, libido, self-confidence, and ambition — hence why maintaining healthy levels is essential. As testosterone goes down, and estrogen levels rise, fat storage is further promoted, and you’ll have a much more difficult time building muscle and staying lean.

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Other Areas of Caution

Don’t blow your diet on massive cheat meals.

One or two binge episodes per week can totally blow your surplus out of proportion and cause you to double, or even triple your rate of fat gained.

Learn how you can still enjoy your favorite foods in moderation here.

Don’t allow your body fat to get too high.

Remember that once you accumulate body fat during a muscle gaining phase, you will be stuck with it until you commit to a fat loss phase with a consistent caloric deficit.

This can be a tedious, and timely process, which is why your nutrition during a muscle building phase should be just as carefully planned and targeted as during a fat loss phase.

 

Wrapping Up

There’s no need to be a greedy bastard in order to gain huge amounts of muscle.

The truth is –  if you think you can put on massive amounts of muscle in the matter of a few weeks, or months, you need to re-assess your expectations.

Building muscle simply takes time.

​​​​​​​And you have to be patient.

Yes — muscle growth requires fuel and hard training, but it’s not an excuse to eat like a pig and get fat.

If you just let go — eat as much as you please, and don’t track your food intake, you will gain primarily fat. 75% or MORE of your weight gain will likely be fat.

Quite simply, the gains you make will go to your gut and not your muscle. Sure the scale might go up, and you’ll gain weight, but it won’t be in the right places.

So get yourself in a caloric surplus — big enough to fuel muscle growth, and not so excessive that you pile on fat.

Track your food intake to make sure that you are getting:

  • Enough protein to support growth and repair, but not an excessive amount so that it takes away from your consumption of the other macros
  • Enough fat to provide sufficient vitamins and minerals and optimize hormone levels
  • Enough carbohydrates to fuel training performance

Also Read: How To Calculate Macros For Lean Bulking 

Continue to train with sufficient volume, intensity, and frequency – working towards progressive overload.

This is your recipe for building muscle, while minimizing the fat gained.

It’s really as simple as that.

A larger caloric surplus really isn’t any more advantageous for building muscle than a small controlled one, and just results in more fat gain.

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