Summer is officially over and the cold weather is emerging. For many, this means that they are transitioning into a bulking phase to build more muscle. The issue with traditional bulks is that most people treat this as an excuse to indulge in high-calorie foods and therefore get fat.
In this article, I am going to show you how to bulk properly, so you can build the maximum amount of muscle, while gaining a minimum amount of fat. Believe me, it’s very possible.
Why bulking works
In an earlier article, I’ve shown you that it’s possible to build muscle and burn fat at the same time. But this is not optimal if you’re trying to maximize muscle growth.
Why is this not beneficial for muscle growth?
The human body builds (protein synthesis) and breaks down (protein breakdown) muscle proteins constantly. If the amount of muscle proteins you’ve built exceeds the amount of muscle proteins you’ve broken down, you’ve built muscle.
When you’re in an energy deficit, research shows that protein synthesis rates drop and protein breakdown rates increase. This simply results in less muscle growth and maybe even muscle loss, if your approach is off.
When you’re consuming more calories than your body needs (like in a bulk), you’re ensuring that you’re not in a state of breakdown and therefore are not sabotaging your muscle-building potential.
Muscular potential of natural lifters
Before we go into how many calories you need to eat to gain the max amount of muscle, you need to understand how much muscle you can build as a natural.
Several fitness researchers and top coaches have put together models, which help indicate how much muscle you can build a year as a natural lifter. My favorite model is that of Lyle McDonald, it provides simple and accurate assumptions for muscle-building potential of natural lifters.
Lyle McDonald model:
|Years of Proper Training||Potential Rate of Muscle Gain per Year|
|1||20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)|
|2||10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)|
|3||5-6 pounds (0.5 pounds per month)|
|4+||2-3 pounds (minimum gains per month)|
This is the reality, which you need to accept. You won’t be able to gain 40 pounds of muscle a year, that’s just not going to happen. I often see people shooting for 1 pound of weight gain per week when bulking. As you can see in the model, it’s very unlikely that you’ll build 4 pounds of muscle a month, even if you’re just starting off.
By maintaining a diet that makes you gain an amount of weight that exceeds your muscle-gaining capabilities, you’re simply setting yourself up for unnecessary fat gain.
There’s research supporting this. Research by the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, divided 39 trained individuals into two groups. One group maintained a small calorie surplus, whereas the other group maintained a large surplus.
Obviously, the group that ate more calories gained more weight. But the extra weight gain wasn’t more muscle, it was body fat. The group that maintained a small calorie surplus, gained the same amount of muscle as the group that ate 600 calories(!) more a day.
So it’s not logical to gain 4 pounds (or more) of body weight a month, if your body is capable of gaining just 2 pounds of muscle a month at most.
Even if you don’t mind extra fat gain in the short-term, you’re still better of keeping it “lean”. Research shows that the more fat you gain, the easier it is to gain it back after you lose it. This is because of an increase in fat cells, which can’t be lost. Fat cells can only shrink in size.
How much you should eat during a bulk
Consuming more calories than your body needs is not the hard part. A majority of the Western population is already eating at a calorie surplus without even knowing it! Most people go wrong by maintaining a calorie surplus that is way too high.
Your weight gain needs to be in line with your ”Potential Rate of Muscle Gain”, as seen in the graph above. Knowing this, you can easily estimate your caloric needs for optimal growth by using the ”3500 calorie rule”.
The 3500 calorie rule indicates that a weekly calorie surplus of 3500 calories makes you gain 1 pound of bodyweight per week. This is definitely not a scientific fact, research has shown this. But it’s still a viable way to estimate caloric demands regarding weight gain/loss rates.
A calorie surplus of 200-300 calories is all you need
If you’re capable of gaining about 2 pounds of muscle a month at most, then you need a weekly calorie surplus of about 1750 to realize this. This is a daily calorie surplus of about 250 calories. Not only is this enough to maximize muscle growth, but it also minimizes fat gain.
This way of bulking, sets you up for gaining lean body mass while maintaining low body fat percentages year-round. Which is seen as ”impossible” by many.
You may not know how many calories your body approximately burns a day, check out the end of this article to find tips about estimating your caloric needs.
Training during a bulk
Like fitness researcher Eric Helms once said:
Nutrition is only permissive, training stimulates muscle growth. – Eric Helms
What Eric means is that resistance training causes the need for muscular adaptation. Solely eating at a calorie surplus, won’t build you any significant muscle. Eating at a surplus just “allows” you to make the most out of your training, by handing your body enough nutrients to realize your muscle-building potential.
The best way to approach your training, is by seeking constant progress in the gym. You will be putting more tension on your muscles over time, which will cause an adaptive reaction (muscle growth).
That’s why research shows that the key to muscle growth is progressive overload. This is especially important when you’re bulking. You’re feeding your body a surplus of energy, put this energy to good use by hitting your workouts hard and increasing your lifts.
Learn more in my new eBook
If you are interested in learning more about maximizing your muscular potential, check out my new eBook “The Art & Science of Muscle Growth. This book translates the currently available scientific data about muscle growth in “Basic English”, so everyone can start implementing an evidence-based approach to training and nutrition.