Bulking - Broken Down
Bulking, massing or gaining are all terms referring to the process of increasing muscle mass and body weight. Phases of bulking are, in theory, the reverse of weight loss phases. So instead of cutting your calories right back, we are looking to increase the calories and stimulate our muscles enough to nurture growth. However, there are a few things you need to know so your bulk season doesn’t become a bulge season.
The most crucial foundation for a successful bulk is a calorie surplus. But what is a calorie surplus?
Calorie Surplus - Calories consumed are greater than the number of calories burned.
A calorie surplus is the opposite of the calorie deficit.
You need to be able to find the right excess of calories to ensure that all the remaining calories are being used to build up muscle rather than being stored as fat. A suitable calorific surplus would normally be between 10-20% of maintenance calories (calories needed to keep your body weight stable). Use our calorie calculator to work out how much you should be eating.
It is much healthier and effective, when bulking, to create a calorie surplus by increasing food intake rather than limiting activity levels. This also means that weight gained will mostly be lean tissue rather than fat.
Similarly to weight loss, protein should be prioritised to help build and repair muscle fibres. For weight gain, protein consumption should be around 1-1.2g of protein per 1lb of body weight.
Muscle Gain vs Weight Gain
When bulking, we want the majority of the weight that we put on to be lean tissue. Undoubtedly, some weight gain will be due to increased fat cells and ‘water weight’ from glycogen being restored to muscles.
To ensure that not too much fat gets gained over a bulking phase, the surplus shouldn’t really exceed 10-20% of maintenance calories. Weight gain should also be around 0.25-0.5% of body weight per week.
To also ensure that the majority of weight gain is due to increased muscle mass, protein intake should be prioritised, as stated above. Once your protein goal is met, the rest of your calorific goal can be split between carbohydrates and fats pretty individually. As long as healthy food choices are being prioritised, bulking can be a fairly flexible phase.
You may have heard of the phrase ‘dirty bulking’. This is when a calorie surplus is achieved through mass consumption of ‘junk food’. A galore of pizzas, burgers, cakes, takeaways, you name it, as long as they’re achieving a surplus, they’re eating it. The issue with eating whatever food you fancy is that majority of ‘junk food’ has a very high-fat content, this means that you may not have the wiggle room to accommodate your protein goal whilst sticking to your calorific needs. At Flamin’ Fitness, we are all for eating the food you love, but we are trying to fuel forever fitness and part of fitness is health. We believe that using the 80/20 rule is ideal for any fitness pursuit. 80% of the time you’re ‘being good’ or staying on track. 20% of the time you can treat yourself, eat that meal you’ve been craving for a week. Remember if whatever you’re doing isn’t enjoyable, it isn’t sustainable.
As we’ve hopefully made clear, the aim of bulking is to increase muscle mass. The best way to do this, training-wise, is by resistance training in the hypertrophy rep range. This means training all muscles groups with heavyweight between 8-12 reps. Areas that you especially want to build can be fired up more in training regimes.
Being in a calorie surplus also means you should have more energy, compared to being in a deficit when energy levels are low. This would be a prime time to train for non-aesthetic goals. Such as hitting a new PB on a lift or improving performance within a sport. This should be incorporated with hypertrophy training as the main aim for a bulking phase is to build muscle rather than strength or performance.
One thing to bear in mind with training is that you need to make sure that muscle fibres are being recruited enough to stimulate growth. So eating in a surplus every day of the week but only training once every 2 weeks isn’t going to quite cut it.
With any training/exercise that you undergo, it should be enjoyable. You should leave the gym, or whatever workout environment you’re using, feeling fired up and pumped. As mentioned above with eating the foods you love, if something isn’t enjoyable, it isn’t sustainable.
FireMan Sam Example
So, let's give an example. Sam wants to gain weight and muscle. Sam is 70kg and has a maintenance daily calorific need of 2500 calories.
Sam needs to eat between 2750-3000 calories to ensure sufficient weight gain.
Sam also needs to make sure his weight gain is staying within the healthy parameters of 0.25-0.5% of body weight per week. So Sam should start by gaining around 0.18kg-0.35kg per week. If the weekly weight gain falls outside of these figures Sam can increase or decrease his food intake to accommodate.
Sam weighs around 154lbs, so Sam’s protein intake needs to be 154g-184g.
Sam is mainly eating whole, fresh foods. He is using Flamin’ Fitness’ recipes to fire up his tastebuds. Although, Sam knows that if he wants that triple cheeseburger with extra fries, he has the flexibility to do so.
Sam is also training 5x a week using our customisable Male Gym Programme and making noticeable gains.
Sam is bulking efficiently. Be a Sam.
Bulking is a much nicer experience for most people than weight loss/cutting phases. BUT, that doesn’t make it easy. Here are a few things you should bear in mind before you venture into building the bulkiest you.
- After a while, it may start to get hard to eat an adequate amount of calories. You may have to eat even when you’re not necessarily hungry to reach your calorie and protein goal.
- You will not be as lean as you’re used to. You will ‘fill out’ and become a bit ‘fluffy’. Those chiselled abs that you were flashing off all summer may slowly start to disappear. Don’t fear they will come back bigger and better!
- Eating regularly and often may be difficult in certain professional or social settings.
- You will most definitely get a comment along the lines of “You eat so much!!” “Where does it all go?” “Do you ever stop eating?” The best response to these negative-nancy statements is just to flex your newly grown quads and smile.
At Flamin’ Fitness, we recommend taking a bulk season during the winter months, where your bikini body is far out of mind and you are surrounded by delicious festive food.
Hopefully, now you’ve read the bulk of the blog, pun intended, you realise that bulking is much more than just eating what you want in the hope that it magically turns to muscle. Take your first steps towards starting your muscle gaining season using the tips above. Check out our recipes and workout plans to help build and keep that muscle. Enquire now if you have any other burning questions.
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