So you’re looking to get big?
You’ve probably heard that you need to start a bulk.
There is a lot of confusion around bulking. You’ve got your gym bro’s that say “you’ve gotta eat big to get big!” while others say that method is a sure fire way to get fat.
So who’s right? Can you gain muscle without looking like a puffy marshmallow?
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Bulking isn’t good or bad, it is how you bulk that makes all the difference.
The theory behind bulking is sound. That is, you need to eat enough food to provide your body with more energy than it is currently burning.
If you want to gain muscle as quickly as possible you are going to have to put on some fat as well.
The goal is to not put on any more fat than is required to optimally build your muscles.
To put it simply, your body’s ability to build muscle is directly related to the amount of fuel (food) your provide it. That and of course following a good training plan.
It’s not enough just to eat a lot of protein. You have to make sure that you get enough calories from carbs and fats as well.
Every day your body is creating an energy balance between the amount of food you eat (energy in) and the activities you do (energy out.)
If you feed your body less than what it burns you have created a negative energy balance also known as a calorie deficit. If this is the case your body needs to get the energy from somewhere else in your body usually your fat stores.
Being in a caloric deficit makes it almost impossible to gain muscle (unless you’re new to the gym) and you certainly won’t be able to add muscle at the rate that you’re hoping to.
So then we come to the other side.
If you feed your body more energy than it requires you will create a positive energy balance or calorie surplus. This means that your body has slightly more calories than it needs to perform your day to day tasks.
It also means your body has enough fuel to properly recover and grow from your workouts.
So that is where the typical bro logic of “you have to eat big to get big” comes from.
Depending on how much of a surplus you are in will determine how much excess fat you add.
In this article we are going to break down exactly how to “clean bulk” so that you don’t add a ton of fat while gaining muscle, the best bulking foods and exactly how much you should be eating when on a bulk.
What Is Clean Bulking?
Clean bulking is a form of dieting that allows you to maximise muscle growth while minimising the amount of fat you gain in a caloric surplus.
To be successful on a clean bulk you need to stick to two things:
- Regulate and track your caloric intake.
- Get the majority of calories from nutritious foods.
Lets take a deeper look into both now:
Tracking your caloric intake
We’ve discussed how important it is to be in a caloric surplus when trying to build muscle.
The reason for this is because if you don’t have enough energy (calories) your body will need to use the energy to perform other functions throughout your body which take a higher priority to building muscle.
So we aim to put ourselves in a slight surplus so that we can comfortably know that we are providing our bodies everything they need in order to grow at the maximum rate.
Notice I only said “slight” surplus. The common mistake people make with bulking is thinking they have a free licence to eat whatever they want.
They will achieve the goal of putting their body into a surplus however as we mentioned before, too much of a surplus will lead to excess and unnecessary fat gain.
When on a clean bulk you should aim for a 10 to 15% surplus of calories. This will make sure you have enough calories so you don’t accidentally slip into a deficit and it’s not so much that you will put on large amounts of fat quickly.
Sticking to a slight surplus like this will put your body in the optimum energy state to build muscle.
Eating more than this amount 20 to 30%+ of your daily calories won’t allow you to build muscle any quicker but it will result in a lot of extra fat gain.
Why You Should Get Most Of Your Calories From Nutritious Foods
Food is a source of essential nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy, it is more than just a source of macronutrients.
When on a clean bulk you should aim to get 80% of your calories from nutritious whole foods.
The other 20% or less you can eat some of your other favourite foods, that aren’t classified as “healthy.” However you don’t want these to make up the majority of your diet.
Stick to eating foods like these on your clean bulk:
Clean Bulking Foods List.
- Turkey breast
- Barley, oats, quinoa, brown rice
- Beans (green, black, garbanzo, kidney, navy, pinto)
- Peanut Butter
- Cottage cheese
- Low fat yogurt
- Banana & berries
- Brussels sprouts
- Almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts
- Baked potatoes
- Greens (chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach)
- Low fat yogurt
- Sweet potatoes
- Seeds (flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower)
- 1% or 2% milk
- Bell peppers
Biggest Bulking Mistakes (Avoid These)
Bulking, when done right is a great way to add muscle and build a better physique. However there are some common mistakes that a lot of people make when trying to bulk.
Let’s take a look at the biggest mistakes so you can avoid them in your next bulk.
Dirty Bulking – Do you have to eat big to get big?
You’ve probably seen videos online of fitness influencers eating cheeseburgers and milkshakes because “they’re bulking.”
They say things like “as long as you hit your macros you’ll be fine.”
And yes while you can follow an iifym (if it fits your macros) style of eating and still have a good looking physique, there are more to foods than simply protein, carbs and fats.
Food is also a vital source of micronutrients that are body’s need to perform optimally. The main problem with fast food and sugary treats is that they’re highly processed, have very little micronutrients and are high in calories.
If your diet focuses too much on these types of foods you can run into problems down the line with nutritional deficiencies and all kinds of other health problems.
You’re also probably just going to feel better on a day to day basis if you eat a balanced diet full of nutritious foods.
Eating Too Many Calories
While you’re looking to put yourself in a caloric surplus when bulking, eating too many calories won’t give you any extra muscle building advantages.
You’ll just end up putting on excessive amounts of fat.
You’ll gain just as much muscle eating 110% of your daily calories as you would eating 120 to 130%.
If you stick to a slight 10% surplus you will slowly put on fat over a matter of months.
Up this amount and you will see fat coming a whole lot faster.
How To Clean Bulk
So you’re ready to get started on a clean bulk.
Hopefully by now you realise the benefits of clean bulking as apposed to the gym bro recommended dirty bulk.
In this section you will learn exactly how to structure your clean bulk for maximum muscle growth and minimum fat gain.
Let’s get started.
As we’ve discussed so far, clean bulking is about putting yourself in a slight caloric surplus.
However to do that we need to first know how many calories we should be eating as a base rate.
The first step is to calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE.)
You can use a calculator like this.
Once you have your TDEE you want to add 10% (multiply by 1.1) to put yourself in a slight surplus.
Calculate your macros for bulking
Once you have your TDEE for bulking you can then calculate your macros.
Macronutrients or macros are nutrients that our body needs in large amounts to survive.
We’re talking about proteins, carbs and fats.
Here’s how you can set up your macros for clean bulking:
Eat 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Protein is the most important of the three macronutrients when building muscle and that is why we calculate it first.
Eat 0.3 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight.
Fat is essential to your diet. With that said after you hit your fat requirements, extra fat is not going to benefit your performance in the gym.
Use your remaining calories on carbs
Carbs are your major source of fuel and if you are looking to gain strength and muscle or perform better athletically, they are extremely beneficial.
But how do you know how many calories you have left over for carbs?
That will require a bit of maths.
The first thing to know is the amount of calories per gram each macronutrient has.
Here’s how they weight up:
Protein = 4 calories/gram
Fat = 9 calories/gram
Carbs = 4 calories/gram
So we have already calculated our calories, protein and fat intake.
And we know that 1 gram of protein is equal to 4 calories and 1 gram of fat is equal to 9 calories.
Follow these steps to calculate your carbs:
- Multiply your protein intake by 4
- Multiply your fat intake by 9
- Add these two numbers together and then subtract that number from your goal calories. This will give you the calories you have remaining for carbs
- Divide the remaining number by 4 to get the total in grams of carbs that you should eat every day.
If you want to learn more about counting macros read this post.
Now that you have your macros
Create a meal plan
Having a meal plan can make sticking to your macros a lot easier.
Rather than having to count the macros of foods everyday and try and make then add up to your totals on the fly, you can plan out your meals for a week and even do some meal prep to make meals available on the go.
Plan your foods out in a spreadsheet and make sure you stick to them.
For more information on meal plans check this out.
Adjust your macros based on how your body responds
Following a clean bulking plan you should expect to gain about 0.25 to 1 pound per week as a man and 0.25 to 0.5 pounds as a woman.
If you see yourself gaining more than this, you’re probably eating too much and putting on a bit of excess fat. If this happens you will need to dial your eating back a bit.
If you are gaining less than the above amounts then you aren’t in a surplus and you need to eat more.
Is this happens to you add 100 to 150 calories to your protein and/or carbs allowance and see how your body responds over the next 10 days.
If you’re gaining strength in your training but also not adding weight it is a good sign that you need to increase your calories.
If after 7 – 10 days your weight hasn’t increased again you can add another 100-150 grams of carbs until you see an increase in weight.
Tracking Your Weight
When tracking your results it helps to take a weekly average of your weight. That is weigh yourself every day for a week, add the numbers up and then divide by 7.
You can then compare this to your weekly average of the next week and have a more accurate number.
Sometimes you’re weight can fluctuate a bit on a day to day basis. The weekly average helps reduce this.
Eat Big, Train Big and Recover Big
We’ve talked about the amount of food you need to be eating to get bigger and stronger.
But all the excess calories in the world aren’t going to help you if you aren’t on point with your training and recovery as well.
If you’re wanting to build muscle you need to:
Follow a well structured workout program. A good workout program will emphasize heavy compound exercises. Compound exercises are the pillars of strength and muscle building in natural weightlifters.
Make sure you are getting the necessary recovery. Sleep, eating the right foods not overtraining are all key to maximising the amount of muscle your body can build.
How Long Should You Bulk For?
Depending on your goals and where you’re starting at will determine how long you should bulk for.
If you’re a guy and are over 15% body fat you should reduce this down to about 10% before bulking.
If you’re a girl and over 25% body fat, reduce this to about 20% before bulking.
Starting your bulk from a lower body fat percentage is beneficial for a couple of reasons. Firstly it helps to preserve insulin sensitivity and hormonal balance.
As your body becomes resistant to insulin its ability to burn fat lowers and your likelihood of gaining fat increases.
Secondly it allows you to bulk for many months before your fat levels start getting too high.
When you’re ready to bulk, follow these guidelines:
Follow a clean bulk until you reach 15 to 17% body fat as a man or 25 to 27% body fat s a woman. Once you reach this level, stop bulking and start reducing body fat levels.
Once you get back to your baseline 10% (man) 20% woman you can begin bulking again.
Follow this cycle until you’re happy with your overall muscle size and development.
How Long Does It Take To Build Muscle
I’m sorry to tell you but building muscle takes longer than you think. If you set out with the right expectations and goals you will be a lot better in the long run.
The truth is building real muscle takes time.
A beginner can expect to gain 18 to 27 pounds of lean muscle in the first year.
10 to 15 pounds in the second.
5 to 6 pounds in year three and…
2 to 3 pounds each year after that.
If you are relatively new to weightlifting and want to go from a normal physique to a muscular ‘movie star’ one it can take anywhere from 1-4 years.
Fitness should be part of your lifestyle and not a quick fix for something.
Final Word On Clean Bulking
Hopefully you have a clearer picture of how to go about your next bulk.
The old bodybuilder way of gorging on food to force your muscles to grow does work, but we know that there is a smarter, better way to go about things.
Clean bulking is the answer to stacking on muscle without getting overly fat.
Follow a good workout program along with the steps in this article and you will put on muscle.
Need Some Workouts For Your Next Bulk? You’ll Love These:
What do you think of clean bulking? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.