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August 09, 2021 8 min read

Bodybuilding nutrition programming consists of three distinct phases that include bulking, cutting, and maintenance.

Bulking is when you intentionally increase your calorie intake to build muscle, cutting is when you lower the calories to burn fat, and then once you have reached your intended level, to maintain what you've built.

In all of these phases, it is important to monitor the amount of protein you take. 

Even if you don't plan to compete, it is important to understand how protein works and how your body uses it to build muscle and burn fat, especially if you are pushing your body to the limit.

In this article, you'll learn about the job that protein does when you are bulking, why it is important, and how you can get the best and most effective gains.

So let's get started.

What Is Protein?

Protein is a macronutrient that is built from sets of amino acids that are strung together into chains.

Chemical molecular formulas of amino acids

Your body naturally produces protein, but some you need to get from food (these are called essential amino acids) and they are important for building everything from muscles to organs to your hair.

Why Is Protein Important for Building Muscle?

When you lift weights, the muscles you worked are damaged. The small micro-tears in the muscle you created when you exercise require raw materials to grow back bigger and stronger. In order for your body to build muscle, it needs to be able to synthesize more muscle protein than it is able to break down. This is why you need protein in order to build muscle.

The muscle needs to be damaged in order to be repaired, which means you also need to combine increased protein intake with a proper workout routine to grow bigger.

Why Is Protein Important for Weight Loss?

Protein has a higher metabolic rate than fat and carbohydrate, which means consuming more protein can increase the amount of calories that your body burns while at rest. It's also more satiating, which means that it makes you feel full and can reduce your appetite.

If you are trying to lose body fat and build muscle mass and strength, increasing your protein intake can help.

Are You Getting Enough Protein?

If you do not have any dietary restrictions or any contrary doctor’s recommendations, the recommended daily protein intake for healthy individuals is around 0.8 grams of daily protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

However, if you want to gain muscle, then you'll likely need to increase your protein intake.

Professional athletes often consume up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram (per 2.2 pound) of body weight every day. However, research suggests that after 1.5 grams per kg of body weight per day is plenty. In short, this simply means that more protein isn't always better.

If you are starting to bulk, 1.5 grams of protein per day is plenty to build lean muscle. Once you achieve maintenance levels, then you can dial that number down to between .09 grams to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram.

Where Can I Get The Protein I Need?

If you are at the beginning of your bulking phase, increasing your protein intake from real food is the best way to give your body the materials it needs to build lean muscle. 

Here is a handy list of all the foods you can get all your protein requirements from:

  • Chicken Breast: 33g of protein per 100g
  • Cod: 18g of protein per 100g
  • Whey Protein: 80 to 90g of protein per 100g
  • Vegan Protein: 70 to 80g of protein per 100g
  • Clams and Other Molluscs: 48g of protein per 100g
  • Low-sodium Parmesan Cheese: 42g of protein per 100g
  • Tofu: 17g of protein per 100g
  • Lean Beef: 36g of protein per 100g
  • Lamb: 25g of protein per 100g
  • Pork Tenderloin: 23g of protein per 100g
  • Soya Protein Isolate: 88g of protein per 100g
  • Eggs: 12.5g of protein per 100g
  • Grilled Salmon: 24.2g of protein per 100g
  • Tuna: 23g of protein per 100g
  • Grilled pork chop: 31g per 100g

Am I Eating Too Much Protein?

Bulking is a process, and not one that you can speed up simply by eating a bunch of red meat and going to the gym for 10 hours a day.

It is absolutely possible to consume too much protein in your diet.

If that happens, you may put yourself at risk of kidney stones, heart issues, or colon cancer. Make sure you are doing everything properly and not going over your protein needs to the point of endangering your health.

What Are My Calorie Recommendations?

If you are trying to bulk up, then it is necessary that you ingest more calories than you need to maintain your weight.

In general, aiming for about 250 to 500 calorie increase over what you already ingest, from healthy whole food sources, is a great way to bulk with lean muscle and not an extra layer of fat. 

This would mean that if you were the average person and you maintain your weight at around 2000 daily calories (this number depends on your activity level and body type), then you should aim for 2250 to 2500 calories for the period that you are bulking.

To calculate this accurately, you'll first need to determine your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure)

Your TDEE is an estimation of how many calories you burn per day when exercise is taken into account. There is a formula to calculate this, however it may be easier to use this calculator online instead.

Once you have your total energy expenditure figured out, then you can analyze your current daily food intake to determine how many calories you are consuming and where those calories are coming from. (This is a great exercise in focus that you can do for a week to ten days in order to get clear on your dietary choices and your goals. You'll be surprised at how much you learn about yourself.)

Once you have a baseline average of how many calories you consume and where those calories are coming from, you can then calculate your macros in order to determine how many extra calories per day you need to consume in order to reach your muscle building goals.

For example, by understanding what you eat every day, you'll be able to clearly see where you can reduce fat and increase your protein.

Here is a handy guide for calculating your energy needs: (you should multiply it by 1.5 to 1.8, the lower being for a sedentary day and the upper being for when you are doing strength training, cardio, or resistance training):

Men: Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) = 88.362 + (13.397 × your weight in kg) + (4.799 × your height in cm) – (5.677 × your age in years)

Women: BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 × your weight in kg) + (3.098 × your height in cm) – (4.330 × your age in years)

If you have access to a dietitian, consult them on how many calories you spend a day and how much you should increase in order to gain muscle mass. They might also give you more info on the kinds of foods you should switch to for better and healthier results.

What Are Your Carbohydrate Recommendations?

Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for your body, so if you are bulking, you will need to make sure you are consuming enough carbohydrates. This also means that you should take note when you are consuming carbohydrates as you want to consume carbohydrates from whole food sources, not added sugar from highly-processed food-like products.

You'll want to consume these both before and after your workout, before so you can have energy for your training, and after so you can replenish your glycogen stores.

After your workout, you'll want to consume 0.8 g/kg of bodyweight of carbs (as well as 0.4 g/kg of protein). This means that if you are an average person of 68 kg or 150 lb, then you will want to consume 55 grams of carbs (as well as 27 grams of protein).

This can be something such as a carb-heavy snack such as bananas with a protein-heavy snack such as Greek yogurt. As for the amount that you should be consuming for the whole day, you should get about 4 to 7 g/kg of carbohydrates. This means that if you are an average person of 68 kg or 150 lb, then you should consume around 270 to 480 grams per day.

What About Fat Recommendations?

Fats are often overlooked in fitness routines, and even sometimes demonized as bad for you and your health, but the truth is, a healthy amount of fats is absolutely essential for the regulation of your hormones.

This means that fats play a significant role in the regulation of testosterone which is essential to the building of muscle.

It is recommended during the bulking phase that you get anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of your calories from fat. If you are worried about the kind of fats you are putting in your body, you can opt for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which can be found in avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, olive oil, etc.

What Supplements Should You Take?

Of course protein powder is an easy way to increase your daily protein requirements, but there are other time-tested supplements that can help with bulking, including creatine.

Structural chemical formula of creatine molecule

Creatine is the most studied sports supplement in history and it can help you increase both your strength and mass gains during your bulking period. Combine creatine with 50 grams of protein and carbohydrates for maximum effectiveness.

Bulking phase: 20 grams a day split equally into 4 doses for 5 to 7 days.

Maintenance phase: one dose of 3 to 5 grams per day until you are done bulking

Q&A Section

1. Why was I not able to lift my usual amount during my workout?

If you find yourself not being able to lift as much as you were lifting before, you could be low in glycogen stores. You can restore glycogen stores by eating starchy foods high in glycogen, such as rice, potatoes, quinoa, and legumes like lentils and beans.

2. Why did I feel more tired than usual?

If you are lacking in energy, you may need to increase your carbohydrate intake. They provide fast-acting energy and can help if you are feeling tired.

3. Why did I experience brain fog?

Brain fog is characterized by difficulty thinking or concentrating - when your brain feels a little bit “foggy” or “sluggish”. This kind of feeling is quite common (for example when people are sick with the flu), however, if it gets severe, then you might need to look into getting more carbohydrates in you since this is what your brain runs on.

4. Why do I feel shaky after my workout?

Feeling shaky after working out is never good. If this happens to you, it likely means your blood sugar is low. Carbs, as well as sugars, should help this feeling go away.

It may look like we are beating a dead horse, but the low energy is often linked to low carbohydrate intake. Often when people are trying to bulk up, they increase their protein intake but they neglect their carb intake, and although protein is important, carbs are your body's preferred fuel source.

Final Verdict

The main points to keep in mind when bulking are: keep your calorie intake high (in a small surplus over normal to maximize lean muscle and minimize fat gain), eat adequate protein for muscle building, consume enough carbs so you can maintain your energy levels, eat 'healthy' fats, train hard, and enjoy the journey.

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