After a great summer, it’s time to put on the sweat pants and start bulking up. So, all you need to do is consume more calories than you burn and pump iron in the gym until you drop dead, right?
Well, no. The challenge isn’t putting on weight. The challenge is to put on quality weight, which is what we call clean bulking. The key to a successful bulk is to build lean muscle mass while keeping body fat levels down. For some guys, bulking and cutting form an unhealthy, vicious cycle: gorge on junk food during winter to bulk up, then crash diet to burn the excess fat. It doesn’t seem very healthy, does it? Not only that it’s really bad for your entire organism, but this kind of eating pattern can cost you your hard-earned gains.
With all of the different bulking programs out there nowadays, it is easy to become lost and confused as to what is the correct way to gain muscle. To help with that confusion we’ve compiled a list of 10 rules you should have in mind during the bulking season. Here we go:
1. Don’t Gorge on Junk Food
We had to put this first, obviously. This is the most common and also the most damaging mistake bodybuilders make while bulking up – they simply use the bulking season as an excuse to satisfy their every craving, which usually means eating huge piles of junk food every other day. If you want to get as much muscle as possible without getting fat, you need to “eat lean”, meaning to include appropriate portions of high quality protein, complex carbs and healthy fats in your diet. Don’t forget, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.
2. Eat More, but Not THAT Much
A recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that obese subjects who dieted and weight trained for 90 days lost 35 pounds while gaining significant muscle at the same time. In other words, stimulating muscles through training is the most important factor in gaining lean muscle size. Also, the study suggests that you don’t need to stuff yourself with food all day long to get there – on the contrary, that will only lead to more fat storage. We recommend that you aim for between 14 and 18 calories per pound of body weight on a daily basis, or consuming 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, 2 grams of carbs per pound, and 0.4 grams of fat per pound.
3. Change Is Your Friend
If you’ve been on the same program for a while, this is the right time to make some dramatic changes to it. Since the training stimulus is the biggest factor in muscle growth, you are more likely to make greater gains if you completely remodel your training routine right before you start your bulk. For example, if you’ve been circuit training, try switching to an upper/lower split for a while. If your volume has been high, cut back on the reps and add some weight. Increase the intensity by introducing drop sets, supersets, rest-pause training or weekly rep cycling. The sheer novelty of the stimulus will yield great results.
4. Don’t Forget Cardio
Whatever you do, don’t abandon your cardio. This will keep you lean as you increase calories, and most importantly, it will keep your heart in shape. Too much cardio can inhibit growth, as it will burn the excess calories you’re eating, but most people won’t ever be in danger of doing too much cardio!
To get the full fat-reducing and heart-protecting benefits of cardio, stick to low intensity exercises that promote cardiovascular health without burning too many calories. Simply implement it into your weekly weight lifting routine, or do it in the morning only for about 30 minutes. Walking, jogging and cycling will work great. In addition, studies have shown that fasted cardio (doing cardio on an empty stomach) helps during a bulk and focuses a lot more on burning fat.
5. Don’t Bulk Too Long
Less is more in this case, perhaps? The hard truth is that the longer you bulk, the fatter you’ll get, and there’s no way around it. Even if you’re eating lean and healthy, the excess food will eventually show up as body fat and ruin the physique you’ve worked so hard on. Also, your body’s insulin sensitivity tends to decline sharply at around 15% body fat, so continuing to bulk beyond that point might lead to rapid fat gain.