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February 10, 2022 10 min read

If you’ve spent any time at a gym, you’re probably already familiar with the main tenets of the bulk: eat more and lift heavy.

Even though there are a lot of details to look over, it really does come down to these two factors.

By balancing out the right amount of food with the right amount of physical activity, sculpting your dream physique is going to slowly become reality. Add enough rest into the mix, and you have a recipe for the  perfect bulk.

Getting a jacked physique is all about directing what you do in the gym, and what you put on your dinner plate.

However, the quest for hulking muscles is also much easier said than done. Like with most things, there are worse and better methods of going about this, which we’ll take a closer look at down below.

Close up big body bodybuilder eat big beef steak behind table opposite gray wall

What is Bulking?

Although the term “bulking” gets thrown around a lot, it’s good to first get on the same page about what it means. To bulk is to put on weight (consisting of lean muscle mass) over a period of time.

The big factor here is that the weight one puts on should largely consist of muscle and not fat. This is where the differentiation between dirty bulk and clean bulk can come in.

As the name implies, a clean bulk is an attempt to eat as healthy as possible so that the majority of the weight gain consists of lean muscle mass. This is obviously the most recommended type of bulk, but it can be difficult to hit the necessary calorie counts.

On the other hand, there’s the dirty bulk. As you can probably imagine, this means eating anything just to get to your calorie goals—this leads to more fat gain.

Most people will strike a balance somewhere between these two extremes, depending on their goals and starting physical condition.

If you’re training at the top of your level, then a dirty bulk might be the best way for you to put on some muscle quickly. However, for most people, it’s better to lean towards clean bulking, where fat gain is reduced.

The Bulking Diet

When it comes down to it, it’s all about what you eat. 

Not only is this true for bulking, but also for losing weight. Your attitude in the kitchen is more important than your attitude in the gym, even though the latter gets most of the glory. And just like with cutting, a good bulk should have set parameters around calories and macros.

Just going hog wild on a bunch of food for two months will definitely get you results, but probably not the results you were after. There are several factors to take into account when planning your bulking diet.

All About the Caloric Surplus

Changing the numbers on the scale primarily comes down to calories in and calories out, or CICO.

When looking to put on weight, the number of calories you consume has to be larger than the number of calories you burn—that much is relatively clear cut. To a certain point, the greater this surplus of daily calories is, the faster you can expect to increase your body weight.

However, at a certain point there are going to be increasingly diminishing returns on the food you eat, so going balls to the wall isn’t necessarily a good idea.

A surplus of 300 to 500 calories daily is a good amount to put on healthy body weight. This also means that you’re not going to be able to get crazy increases in size right off the bat. While beginners might see noob gains pad their development, most people shouldn’t expect to gain more than ½ to 1 pound of muscle mass per month.

The Necessary Macros

Calories are only part of the overall picture when it comes to your diet. The macronutrients that these calories consist of are equally important. And when muscle building is the goal, protein is the (not so) secret ingredient.

The minimum recommended daily allowance is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, this is only the minimum and should only be used as a reference point if you want to gain muscle mass.  

Ramping this number up to around 2.2 grams of protein per kg of body mass should be more than enough to fill your protein needs. And if you’re still having trouble, Whey-ISO is always a great option.

Fat is also necessary, but mostly because it’s the most calorie-dense of all of the macronutrients. This means that it will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to bulking, especially when you consider that it’s less satiating than protein as well. 

Carbohydrates are a big thing to consider, especially since they’ve been increasingly vilified in the fight against fat. When you’re bulking and working out enough to validate the added calories, it’s very important to eat enough carbs. Carbs are going to give you the energy you need to do the heavy lifting for muscle gains.

Avoiding carbs in an attempt to bulk “cleaner” isn’t going to give you better results unless the carbs you’re avoiding are all junk food. For the most efficient changes in body composition towards more lean muscle tissue, it’s important to limit excess fat by keeping your protein intake in check and consuming healthy fats and carbs. Extra calories are important, but your weightlifting needs to balance them out.

Working Out

Resistance training is what’s going to take all that fuel from your diet and turn it into the muscle mass you’re after, so it’s a crucial aspect when it comes to bulking. Lifting heavy is what you should be after since strength training will also elicit plenty of muscle growth.

If your goal is bodybuilding, higher rep ranges can be used instead to elicit more hypertrophy rather than strength gains. However, a solid workout plan should have things like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses regardless.

The point is to continually challenge yourself with progressive overload. This means that you should always be building up to either increase in rep counts (volume) or weight (intensity). If you’re constantly challenging your muscles, they’re going to constantly keep developing in strength and size. 

Although there are a lot of good bulking workouts out there to follow, it’s a good idea to stick to compound exercises that hit a lot of different muscle groups. Not only is this more efficient training, but it will also allow you to lift heavier.

Don’t Overtrain

Even though it’s important to work hard, you also don’t want to fall into the trap of overtraining. Giving your muscles enough rest is just as important as the training itself, so it shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Lifting will lead to more muscle growth only up to a certain point, and after that, you’ll be wasting your time at best, and stopping muscle growth altogether at worst. It’s important to understand that a bulking phase gives us the opportunity to quickly develop in our training, but sometimes it’s best to take a step back instead of pushing our body too far.  

What About Cardio?

There’s a common idea that cardio is the antithesis to bulking, and although this isn’t completely untrue, it also doesn’t consider the potential usefulness of cardio. There is a legitimate concern that mixing weight training and cardio training gives your body mixed signals, and therefore dampens its metabolic response to either type of training.

However, this is more largely an issue with high-intensity cardio such as circuit training.

Steady-state cardio that’s low impact (such as swimming) is a good way to maintain your health and also control body fat—even when you’re bulking.

That doesn’t mean you should do it very often, but it’s entirely possible (and healthy) to implement some cardio.

Supplements for Success

While supplements can be helpful whatever your goals, they can prove to be particularly useful for the bulk. When the name of the game is packing on weight, there’s a ton of options out there for you to choose from if you’re looking for an extra edge. However, it’s also important to remember that supplements are meant to supplement, not replace, all of the other aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

If you’re not working out properly, eating a good diet, or getting enough rest, supplements will act as a band-aid solution at best. Saying that, these are the supplements you should seriously consider to make your bulk an even greater success.

Whey Protein

Whey protein powder is the most well-known and popular workout supplement out there. Although different powders have different nutritional aspects, they all essentially offer a large amount of high-quality protein—exactly what you need if you’re looking to bulkThat being said, some whey protein powders will work better for you than others. For example, whey concentrate will have more fat and carbs in it than a whey isolate, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re wanting to bulk.

Other than the protein type, it’s also a good idea to do your research. Many powders contain fillers that at best offer nothing, and at worst will pump up your calorie intake without the nutrients you need. There are also plant-based powders for those that might be lactose intolerant or vegetarian and vegan.

Molecular structure model and structural chemical formula of creatine molecule with spoonful of creatine powder

Creatine

Creatine  has continually shown that it’s not only safe but also effective. In fact, it’s one of the most effective supplements for building muscle and strength. 

Creatine is found naturally in muscle cells already, including in the meat that you eat.

However, chances are that you’re not going to be able to eat enough meat to really feel the effects of increased creatine, which is why it’s a good idea to supplement with it. Most of the creatine in your body is stored in a form called phosphocreatine, 95% of which is found in your muscles.

Phosphocreatine helps you create a high-energy molecule called ATP, which is basically what fuels your body. Supplementing with creatine increases your stores of ATP, therefore increasing your energy and performance during physical activities. 

Not only does this lead to greater workloads during your workout (which leads to more gains), but also an increase in anabolic hormones, increased cell hydration, improved cell signaling, and reduced protein breakdown.

Pre-Workout and Mass Gainer

Similar to creatine, pre-workout can also increase your energy levels, thereby increasing your potential for more gains.

A key ingredient in  pre-workout is caffeine, which is proven to enhance both strength and power. Many pre-workouts offer other useful ingredients as well, but caffeine is the one to watch out for if you’re looking to buy a pre-workout supplement. 

And lastly, mass gainers can be particularly useful for…well, gaining mass. Although preferably you’d be getting most of your calories from whole, healthy foods, sometimes we need an extra dose of calories—and that’s exactly what mass gainers offer. 

Some mass gainers also offer useful vitamins and minerals, which can also prove helpful in your bulking journey. After all, building an impressive physique also means maintaining some level of wellness, at least if you’re looking into the long term. This is why a multivitamin can also be beneficial as a daily supplement. But again, try to get most of your vitamins and minerals from your diet rather than supplementing.

Common Mistakes

There’s a lot of information and tools out there for you to succeed with your bulk. However, there are also a few ways that you can go wrong—at least to some extent. Most problems boil down to either eating too much or not enough.

This is largely going to come down to the individual, and it’s best to aim for a ballpark range than to fiddle with the “perfect” bulk. Even the dirty bulk can be a potential option for some lifters, even if it’s generally not recommended.Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to be aware of some issues that might come up.

Not Eating Enough

If you’re not seeing the results you’d expect, chances are that you’re not eating enough. And, as we talked about above, eating enough is the single most important thing

But eating becomes a problem when you try to force yourself to eat a ton of calories every single day—in fact, it can become a chore. Not only is this difficult, but it can also be mentally draining as you struggle to put down a ton of food. This is especially difficult for those who are going for a clean bulk, where vegetables (with fiber) and healthy carbs are good for you and low on calories, but very satiating.

The key is to break your main meals into smaller ones throughout the day.

For example, you can constantly be snacking or drinking a protein shake throughout the day between meals. Even something like drinking a lot of milk can help to pack on the calories. Some people will also opt for using a lot of condiments and fats in their cooking to further pump on the gains. This is largely why the dirty bulk is such an attractive idea, and can even be a good option for lifters struggling to put on weight at the top of their game.

Taking the Bulk Too Far

This is also where the temptation of the dirty bulk strikes the most. For most people, it’s easier to implement diets that are restrictive in nature because a hard limit is used—anything above a certain caloric intake isn’t allowed.

On the other hand, bulking is all about gaining weight. Hopefully, lean muscle mass weight. This often leads lifters to overdo it, usually with less-than-healthy food items. But overdoing it can also come in the form of bulking for too long. At a certain point, the benefits are going to be outweighed by all the extra fat you’ve put on.

It’s important to recognize that the bulk is only one part of a two-part cycle—the bulk and the cut. You’re not only trying to gain muscle mass but also set yourself up for success later down the line. The cut is going to be particularly tough if you don’t limit your bulks to a couple of months at a time, at least when you’re first starting out.

You should treat bulking calorie counts the same as you would a restrictive diet—eat enough to reach your calorie goal and stay within those limits. Letting the bulk get away from you is going to lead to diminishing benefits and a more difficult cut.

Bulks for Hulking Muscles

Even though “eating and working out” are the basic factors of a good bulk, there’s a lot more to consider if you want to get the most out of your routine. However, it’s also a good idea to not get bogged down in the details. If your goal is to bulk, then just do it. Getting lost in the details and attempting the perfect bulk is just going to get you stuck in a quagmire of indecision.

At the end of the day, there might be good general rules to follow, but the only way you’ll really learn is by going into the gym and trying it for yourself. Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies which will warrant different approaches, and the best way to find your own is through practice.

Just like many things, sculpting your perfect physique comes down to a cyclical attitude of bulking and cutting. Focus on  your goals and long-term success, and the gains will come in time.