The Ultimate Guide to Lean Bulking

By

Vince Del Monte, WBFF Pro Fitness Model, Certified Fitness Trainer
and Nutritionist and author of No Nonsense Muscle
Building.

A complete guide to everything you need to know to maximize the muscle-to-fat ratio so you gain pounds of noticeable muscle growth without sacrificing your abs and save your health in the long term.

In Canada, where I’m from, the off season is dictated by the environment more so than any other factor – it’s not like sunny Florida where one’s off season is either nonexistent or dictated by their competition schedule. That’s because where I’m from, it gets COLD during the winter, and all that muscle I’ve worked hard to build falls victim to layer, after layer of clothing to prevent getting sick!

Unfortunately, this is the type of condition that many of you are faced with as well, and you likely use this ‘opportunity’ to build upon your current level of muscularity by doing what is called ‘bulking’ (caloric surplus), only to ‘cut’ (caloric deficit) in the spring and reveal a bigger, larger physique come summer time.

But is bigger always better?

Before we dive in we must understand two critical concepts that get glossed over when discussing the topic of bulking up.

BALANCE AND ADAPTATION

Two things we’ve all likely heard at some point:

“You’ve got to have balance,” or “It’s all about balance” – but do you?

“The body adapts” – but does it?

While some people may be quick to argue that, the fact of the matter remains that it is widely accepted that a degree of balance is key (to pretty much anything in life – at least if you want to be happy), and the body will always make the necessary adaptations to an outside stimulus – this is the basis of evolution, and as it relates to the scope of this article, these two points can heavily influence how well you progress in terms of transforming your body to be exactly what you want it to be. So let’s explore them further.

BALANCE

What is balance anyway? As it relates to improving body composition/physical preparedness, would a balanced diet be one that consists of roughly 33% of protein, carbs, and fat? By definition, that may in fact be considered pretty balanced, and that may be effective for some/many people. Would a balanced training split be one in which every muscle group is hit with the same amount of volume and frequency each week?

Balance can be both objective (as in the examples above, in which a diet is made up of equal parts of each macronutrient, and a training split doesn’t favor any specific muscle group), or subjective – balanced in relation to what you’re trying to accomplish, the latter being more applicable as it relates to the scope of the article.

ADAPTATION

Anyone who’s ever done, well, anything, knows that the body adapts to what it’s subjected to. This can be observed at multiple levels – biological, physiological, psychological, etc. If you want to get better at something, you practice it, and what the body perceives as the desired adaptation needed, occurs – to what extent is dependent on multiple factors, but an attempt to adapt is made nonetheless. If you want to get stronger you lift weights. If you want to specifically improve your endurance for a particular sport, you practice that sport in a way that mimics how you would play it. If you want to learn more about something, you study the related field by reading books or taking courses. All you have to do to promote whatever the desired adaptation it is that you want, is to put in the necessary work. Obviously there’s a difference between good and bad quality of work, and it definitely does apply, but without effort and focus, it doesn’t matter how good the game plan is.

The underlying point here is that the body is constantly adapting, and it does so to make things easier for itself. It doesn’t want to have to make changes, like build muscle – it must be forced to do so, and it also must be provided with the materials to do so, in this case being the right types and amounts of micro and macronutrients.

So, for those who want to build muscle, the question becomes, how can we take these basic principles that the body adheres to, and manipulate what our body perceives as balanced to promote positive adaptation?

BASELINE CALORIES

The first thing is to establish a baseline – we need to know where we’re at, so we can monitor how our body responds to disruptions in our current state of balance. But how do we select a baseline? Assuming your training program and life schedule (work, sports, or whatever other activities you may take part in that requires physical work to be performed on a weekly basis) is relatively consistent – that is, the amount of physical output each week does not fluctuate dramatically from week to week, you must strictly follow an eating regimen for a few weeks to allow the body to adapt to a certain amount of nutrients coming in.

Once balance has been established, and the body is aware of just how many calories are coming in and going out, is when changes can be made and monitored to optimize progress.

DFP_0091

OVER/UNDER, 10/20

Anyone who’s ever dieted down to reach a peak physical condition for strictly aesthetic purposes (ex. to compete in a bodybuilding/physique competition) knows the mental fortitude that is required to live on a very low calorie diet – but just what would be considered a low calorie diet? Anything under 10 calories per pound of body weight. Therefore, if your goal is to build muscle, you should be ingesting FAR MORE than this amount, since this minimal amount is strictly used to maximize fat loss (for those who have a relatively low level of body fat as is).

Those who want to build muscle ought to determine whether or not they want to build ONLY muscle, of if they want to put on as much ‘size’ as possible, irrespective of whether or not the size built is a combination of muscle, fat, water retention, etc.

For a hard gainer,around 5% body fat and a very fast metabolism, I see value in bulking up 15-25lbs beyond their “goal ripped look” and then cutting to trim off the excess fat. And 15-25lbs on a hard gainer will still keep your abs visually intact. This is the method I teach in No Nonsense Muscle Building, but keep in mind it’s advice given to hard gainers with highly elevated metabolisms who are on a mission to gain their first 30lbs of solid muscle. However, after this first transformation we must transition into a more strategic approach.

I’ve personally never understood the value of extended bulking cycles (beyond four months), followed by extended cutting cycles (beyond four months) as an ongoing strategy. Although there are benefits to cycling phases of overeating (creating a caloric surplus – consuming more than is being burned each day, commonly referred to as ‘bulking’) with phases of undereating (creating a caloric deficit, burning more than is being consumed each day, commonly referred to as, ‘cutting’) to maximize physique development, there really isn’t much benefit to extended bulking and cutting phases because it leads to piling on unnecessary body fat, only to try and lose it later! Why put it on if you’re going to try to take it off later, when you can just avoid it altogether?

For argument’s sake, let’s assume you’re like me and only want to add muscle to your frame and minimize fat gain – in this case, it’s important to identify how many calories are needed to give the body the greatest advantage to build muscle while limiting fat gain. Just like it’s generally agreed upon that anything under 10 calories per pound is unsustainably low, anything over 20 calories per pound of body weight may lead to unnecessary fat gain (unless you’re exercising for the entire day, or swimming for hours upon hours), and thus be counterproductive. This leaves us with a window of anywhere between 10 and 20 calories per pound of body weight as a parameter to work with – where YOU should start is based on multiple factors, among them being your current level of body fat, along with your daily/weekly caloric expenditure, to name a few.

Assuming, and this is a rather large assumption but one that is necessary to illustrate a clear point, that your daily/weekly caloric expenditure is relatively stable, it would be safe to establish a baseline caloric intake around 15 calories per pound of body weight – the exception being those who would be considered hard gainers (in this case, those who simply can’t gain weight no matter how much they ‘say’ they eat), in which 16 or 17 calories per pound may be a better starting point. On the flip side, for those who have a slightly higher level of body fat, but for some reason want to ‘bulk,’ it would be wise to err on the side of caution and use 13 or 14 calories per pound as a baseline to work around. Once again, this is all relative to how many calories are being burned daily, but for now, these rough estimates should work for most.

ACTION = (RE)ACTION

Newton’s third law states that for each and every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction – and while this is a law of physics, it pretty much applies here as well. You accept this probable concept and allow it to shape your actions with the goal of promoting the reactions you desire to take place in your development, or you can neglect this law and hope for the best – and hope is not a strategy, my friends.

By failing accept this law, either by choice or as a result of simply not understanding the consequences of what happens when you don’t, you can create quite an uphill battle against yourself – one in which you may not win, or wish you had never created in the first place.

FALLING INTO THE TRAP OF TRYING TO DO TOO MUCH TOO SOON

Everybody wants results and they want them yesterday – in this case, there’s no amount of time that would be considered too quick to build muscle. Because of this urgency, attempts are made to fast track the whole process, but like anything worth having in life – it takes time! How much time? Well, that depends on a LOT of factors, but generally it requires a caloric surplus of 10,000 calories for the body to fuel the energy-demanding processes behind building one pound of muscle tissue. And once you add new muscle, the energy-demanding processes to keep it are very high.

I know what you’re thinking – ‘I’ll go buy some super weight gainer, and take in an extra 10,000 calories above my daily expenditure, and voila!’ Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that – if it did, it wouldn’t be a secret, and we’d all have done it by now. Therefore, a more strategic approach is going to be needed, since gorging yourself with excessive calories will do more harm than good by way of promoting fat storage as a way of disposing of the unnecessary calories.

The more fat you ultimately put on, the more you’re going to have to take off (since fat is generally not aesthetically appealing as is – although there is such thing as not enough fat, once again a delicate ‘balance’ is needed for optimal health), and thus, the longer it will take.

SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE

Given that it takes roughly a 10,000 calorie surplus to build just one pound of muscle tissue, but consuming anywhere near that amount will contribute to more fat gain than muscle gain, we are confronted with quite a paradox — a paradox that requires strategic thinking combined with strict discipline and follow through to ensure that the body has the necessary requirements to build maximal muscle and store minimal fat.

If we do the math, a very conservative caloric surplus of 500 calories per day provides the body with the potential to build 1/3 of a pound of muscle a week – 500 calories X 7 days = 3,500 caloric surplus, meaning it will take three weeks at this rate to build one pound (a VERY lengthy process). If we double that to a surplus of 1,000 calories per day, we increase the body’s potential to build double that in the same amount of time, or to build the same amount in half the time. As you can see, building muscle doesn’t happen overnight!

Because of the potential fat gain that is accompanied with greater and greater caloric intake, it’s wise to err on the side of caution when attempting to build muscle and limit caloric surplus to under 1,500 per day. At this rate, the body’s potential to build muscle is capped at roughly just over a pound per week. From here, depending on how many pounds you ultimately want to build, you can forecast just how long you’re ‘bulking’ phase should last. However, because the body will adapt, the law of diminishing returns suggests that after a certain point the return on investment will be minimized – in layman’s terms, you can’t just crunch some numbers and stuff your face and expect to gain and gain and gain until you’re a 300 lb Mr. Olympia competitor.

All things being equal, it can take a very dedicated 2-3 months (or longer) to pack on 10 lbs of quality muscle – but these gains can NOT be expected to continue at this pace forever.

If you’re wondering when we’re going to make this practical, hang tight, we’re getting there grasshopper.

QUICK RECAP

What we know so far is this:

  • We want to gain as much muscle as possible, NOT as much size as possible.
    The body is an adaptive, reactive organism – therefore we need to know what reaction we want to get from our body so we can effectively devise a plan to disrupt the delicate balance it is trying to create – to do this, we need a baseline to know where we’re at.
  • We know there are no shortcuts (no ‘natural’ shortcuts, anyway) and that we can’t do too much, too soon, or else we will add unnecessary fat to our frame that will be harder to lose later – therefore, we are aware that this will likely be a very lengthy process (depending on how much we want to gain).
  • We know that we want a baseline of roughly 15 calories per pound of body weight to start with, but also that the amount must be in excess of what we are currently burning per day.

What we don’t know:

  • How many calories we burn per day – termed ‘Basal Metabolic Rate’ (BMR).
  • How to practically apply what we do know!

HARRIS-BENEDICT

There’s no shortage of formulas to calculate how many calories one burns per day, but the one I like to use is the Harris-Benedict formula which requires your weight, height, age, and sex, along with a realistic estimate of your daily activity level.

For men:

BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age)

Here are my calculations as a 208lb male, 6 foot tall and 35 years of age.

BMR = 66 + (13.7 x 94.5kg) + (5 x 183cm) – (6.8 x 35)
BMR = 66 + 1294.65 + 914 – 238
BMR = 2,036 calories

For women:

BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.7 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age)

Here are my wife’s calculations as a 110lb female, 5 foot 2 inches and 24 34 years old.

BMR = 655 + (9.6 x 50kg) + (1.7 x 309cm) – (4.7 x 34)
BMR = 655 + 480 + 525 -160
BMR = 1,500 calories

To eliminate the guess work, use this BMR calculator

From there, take your Basal Metabolic Rate (the answer to the equation), and multiply it by *anything between 1.0 (if you’re completely sedentary) and 2.0 (if you’re working out multiple times a day and live a highly active lifestyle on top of that), and that’s how many calories you burn per day, and thus the amount of calories you need to consume just to maintain your weight.

*For the record, this number can be 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc. The only thing that matters is that it is a TRUE reflection of your activity level – NOT of your ‘perceived’ activity level. A lot of people think they are more active than they are, but fail to recognize that they sleep 25-33% of the day, and then are at work for another 25-33% of the day, and ‘work’ isn’t all that much more active than sleep in most cases. Therefore, if you’re INACTIVITY is hovering between 50% and 66%, you must take this into consideration when multiplying your BMR by your activity level.

You can find the Harris Benedict Activity Formula here. I posted it below for us.

 

Harris Benedict Formula
To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows:

  1. If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
  2. If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
  3. If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
  4. If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
  5. If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9

For me, I work at my desk all day and currently perform one training session per day at least six times per week so I’m going to rate myself a 1.725 and use that as my starting point so I can determine my caloric expenditure baseline to work with.

Here’s mine:

BMR = 2,000 calories x 1.725 = 3,450 calories.

You should calculate your BMR right now and post it the comments section below or else you’ll continue to fly blind.

In the unlikely scenario that you burn more than, say 18 calories per pound, disregard the general guideline above (the one which stated 15 calories per pound would be a good starting point) since it will put you in a deficit, and opt to take in anywhere from 10-30% more calories than you burn each day – start lower if you are prone to pack on fat, and start higher if you’re a hard gainer. The benefit to comparing your BMR with the general guideline (of 15 calories per pound of body weight) is simply to reinforce the decision to go with a certain amount, but either one could be used – I simply choose to aim for both to align, but obviously it’s of little value in the unlikely scenario that you simply burn tons, and tons of calories each day.

For example, in the case of a 200 lb male, a multiplier of 15 calories per pound would be ineffective as a baseline if his daily caloric expenditure was well over 3,000 calories. In these rare cases, I would use ONLY the Harris-Benedict Formula to use for establishing a baseline, and use outcome-based decision making to go from there.

APPLICATION OF THE BALANCING ACT

So now that we have some parameters to work with, we can move forward with a hypothetical example to help illustrate how to manipulate certain variables to illicit the positive desired reaction.

For demonstration purposes, we’re going to use a round number, and go with a 200 lb, 25 years old, 6’ tall male, whose activity level is slightly more than moderate and goal is to build muscle only, as our example.

To paint a clearer picture, let’s add that this person has been working out for 2-3 years consistently (so the ‘newbie’ gains have already tapered off and he’s already added a solid 30 lbs to his frame), but has paid little attention to his diet (in terms of how many calories he takes in each day), although he is now willing to do so as he is aware that it is necessary to take his physique to the next level.

Rudy-Beckham

In this case, our demonstration example burns:

(BMR = 66 + 1,246.7 + 900 – 170 = 2,042.7 x 1.5 =) 3,064.05 calories per day, which is roughly equivalent to 15 calories per pound of body weight (3,000).

Therefore, anywhere between 3,000 and 3,064.05 calories per day will be our baseline, to which we want the body to adapt to – which we’ll do by adhering to this parameter for around a month. Why a month? To allow balance and adaptation to set in, so that we can closely monitor how the body responds when you begin to manipulate caloric consumption – if you blindly start increasing calories, you run the risk of gaining unnecessary fat, as it’s much harder to track progress if you don’t have a starting point.

TIME TO DISRUPT THE BODY’S DELICATE BALANCE

From there, we can increase caloric intake to create a surplus and disrupt the body’s delicate balance with the goal of it working in our favor, and packing on muscle. Because we don’t want to gain fat, we can increase calories by as high as 20% (or 30% for a real hard-gainer), but I’d recommend something a little more conservative, so gradual increases can be ongoing – if you start at the top, you have nowhere to go (the same holds true when dieting down, by the way, in that if you cut too much, too soon, there’s no room to reduce further).

This concept is subject to the 80/20 principle which suggests that you can get 80% of maximal results for 20% investment – while you can increase the chances of obtaining more than 80% results with more than a 20% investment, the risk that accompanies the potential gain is simply not worth it, in my opinion. This is primarily why it’s a safer bet to start with a minimal effective dose – that is, the least amount necessary to trigger positive adaptations, and use outcome-based decision making to go from there.

These gradual increases should be infrequent so that progress can be monitored, and fat gain limited – give each increase at least a couple of weeks, or even a month, before making another increase.

Remember, this is going to be a lengthy process, and if you want to do it right, it’s important to resist the urge to do too much, too soon – more is NOT always better. Sometimes more is just ‘more’, and that doesn’t always mean muscle. And if it’s not more muscle, than it could end up being more work later to correct the mistake!

In terms of how much to increase, start by bumping up carbs and protein by 25 grams per day (equating to an additional 200 extra calories per day) and keep it there for a few weeks before increasing it by the same amount again, for the exact same reasons as explained above (to allow balance and adaption to reset, only to be disrupted again and promote the next stage of balance and adaptation). Manage yourself, and take control of your goals by manipulating the body’s natural tendencies in this fashion, over and over, until achieving the desired result.

STRATEGIC BULKING A.K.A. CYCLICAL BULKING

Depending on how many pounds of muscle you want to build, along with how long the process is taking, it may be advantageous to alternate phases of caloric surplus (bulking) with phases of caloric deficit (cutting). In fact, doing so can prime the body for each successive phase because of the body’s adaptive nature.

When you bulk up, and remain in a caloric surplus for an extended period of time, one of the adaptations that takes place is that the body naturally increases the rate in which calories are burned off (by increasing the conversion rate of T4 to T3 – the inactive form of thyroid hormone to the active form of thyroid hormone), as it anticipates that more calories will be consumed in the very near future. By temporarily switching gears and reducing caloric intake when the body is in ‘fat burning’ mode, you burn more calories initially, but not to the point where you’ll likely lose any of the muscle you’ve worked so hard to gain (unless you either restrict too much, or remain in a deficit for too long).

As the body adapts, and the metabolism begins to slow down, you reverse the process and kick it into high gear again! The idea is to take what the body gives you, and the moment the body stops giving, you switch gears and go in the opposite direction. If this is done effectively, you’ll maximize muscle gain, while minimizing fat gain, and this is something that can essentially be sustained as long as the appropriate calculations are made to your caloric intake in relation to your bodyweight as it fluctuates, as well as the goal of the phase that you’re in.

It’s worth noting that when balancing phases of bulking with phases of cutting, recalculating your BMR every month, or two, is in your best interest so that your caloric intake is updated as your body transforms.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

A lot of people become victims of paralysis of analysis by fixating on certain numbers, but the body doesn’t always work like that. Yes, numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the full story.

It’s for this reason that your progression should dictate if, or when, you switch things up, or cycle from a bulk phase to a cut phase. I’m a big believer in taking what the body gives you, but once the body begins to resist (which it does by adapting), is when you should consider shaking things up.

If bulking, and have no need to consider cutting, then ramp up protein and carbs for the recommended amounts above, over and over, until your body suggests that it will no longer adapt. If on the other hand you are gaining more fat than that which is desired, you may want to take that as a hint to enter a cutting phase.

It’s these intangibles that numbers don’t provide, and ones that you must pay attention to. While I wish there was a formula I could provide in terms of how long to bulk, or when to cut, I can’t – doing so would be foolish, as it’s impossible for a formula to predict just how well you will, or will not, adapt.

Then lets do one more little section on the MENTAL SIDE OF BULKING

THE PSYCHOLGOICAL PROS OF CYCLICAL BULKING

I’d like to paraphrase an old Russian Proverb to highlight the benefit to cyclical bulking, and it suggests that he who tries to chase two rabbits at once, ends up with none.

There’s also an old adage that says – jack of all trades, master of none.

I touch on these points to illustrate the benefit of directing all of your focus onto one specific goal at a time, and to not try to do too many things at once. A lot of people want to build muscle, and burn fat – who doesn’t? But where most people go wrong is they try to do these things concurrently. This is not to suggest that these two things are isolated from each other – quite the contrary in fact. But the point more so is that focus should be on one thing only, and the rest will handle itself.

Take what the body gives you, and reevaluate often so that your strategy is constantly up to date with your results. If the strategy isn’t working the same as it once had, listen to the clue, and do what you need to do. On the other hand, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – meaning, if something is still working, but it’s been a while, and you ‘think’ it’s time to change, hold back and ride it out. This requires discipline, and discipline is a multifaceted skill, that can carry over to other aspects of life – acquiring greater discipline in turn will enhance your training, which will enhance your results, which will enhance your discipline to keep pushing forward with your diet, and the cycle ultimately feeds itself. But for most of you, discipline starts here: by strictly adhering to a strategic eating plan built around bringing you closer to where you ultimately want to be.

MACROS

I’ve yet to touch on the importance of macronutrients, but that’s not to suggest their unimportance. In fact, what makes up the bulk of your diet can determine just how much muscle you gain (or not), and how much fat you store. I’m not going to get too in depth in terms of the importance, and differences of each macronutrient, as there is an abundance of information readily available for those wondering what sources of food, provide the best sources of each macro depending on their goal. Below is a link to a video I filmed on the Top 20 Muscle Building Foods if you need some help.  I’m more so going to outline some parameters in terms how much of each macro you should have in your diet.

Generally, the following macronutrient breakdown will provide a good base to build from – assuming one is neither a hard-gainer, or packs on fat easily:

Bulking phase – 30-35% protein, 20-25% fat, 40-50% carbs

Cutting phase – 35-40% protein, 20-25% fat, 35-45% carbs

The major difference between the two phases is that carbs are higher during phases of caloric surplus, while protein should be increased by roughly 5-10% above baseline when in a caloric deficit to maintain muscle mass, while fat and carbs are reduced by roughly 5% each.

For those who pack on fat easily, and therefore take a slightly more conservative baseline in terms of daily caloric intake, protein should be increased by roughly 3-5%, and fat should be increase by roughly 5%, at the expense of carbs – during a bulk phase.

During a cut phase protein should be increased by roughly 4-6% above the baseline numbers suggested above, while fat should be increased by roughly 2-4%, once again at the expense of carbs – the trend here is that for those who gain fat easily, carbs should make up a slightly lower percentage of the diet.

Hard-gainers on the other hand should reduce protein by roughly 3-5%, BUT increase fat by roughly 5% as well, with the difference in lost calories from protein being made up from carbs (since they can tolerate more without gaining fat) – during a bulk phase. During a cut phase protein should be increased by roughly 2-4% above the baseline numbers suggested above, while fat should be increased by roughly 4-6%, once again at the expense of carbs – you may have noticed that the increases in protein and fat during a cut phase are inversely proportionate to those who pack on fat rather easily.

1 CHEAT MEAL A DAY? 

When I made an attempt to bulk up to 230 lbs in 2010, I hired IFBB Pro Bodybuilder Ben Pakulski.  One of his strategies frankly shocked me. After prescribing me an outstanding 4,500 calorie diet I was having a hard time getting in all the daily calories so asked Coach Ben, ‘Any tips to hit my daily calories?”  His reply was simple yet shocking: “Have 1 cheat meal a day. You’re bulking bro. It’s time to grow. This isn’t the time to worry about your six pack, this is the time to gain some significant size so sure, have 1 cheat meal a day, just don’t go crazy.”

And that’s what I did and within 6-weeks I climbed from 214 lbs and hit 227 lbs, the biggest I have ever been at 6 feet tall.  Remember, bulking is meant to be fun to a degree and as a professional fitness model I sometimes forget this during off-season.  Some of my favorite cheat meals were a burger and fries or a thin crust pizza stuffed with chicken and pineapple. I wasn’t eating boxes of pop tarts.

Bulking-femaleSHOULD FEMALES BULK?

The question of whether females should implement bulking phases is a good one, although I’m sure most females cringe at just the thought of ‘bulking’. But the fact of the matter remains that bulking, or cutting, are both completely dependent on the goal. With that being said, I imagine I’d be hard pressed to find many females with goals that would align with the necessity to follow a bulking strategy, although they do exist somewhere, I think…

In the scenario that a female wants to ‘bulk’ (likely in an attempt to gain ‘size’ overall, and not just bring up a lagging body part – which isn’t all that common, although I’m sure it does exist…), the parameters are the same as for men – those who are prone to fat gain should be weary and conservative, and those who are hard-gainers can go a little harder and put the pedal to the metal!

NO NONSENSE TAKE AWAYS:

  • Attempting to gain too much size, too quickly, can and likely will result in unnecessary fat gain, and the time it takes to get the fat off far outweighs the benefit of putting it on in the first place – you’re just creating more work for yourself later, which is why you’re better off avoiding it in the first place (even though it is ‘easier’ to simply stuff your face with whatever you want, whenever you want – easier doesn’t mean more muscle either)
  • Depending on how much muscle you want to gain, will determine how long it takes – if things aren’t moving along as they initially were but you still have a ways to go, cycling between phases of bulking and cutting may be the missing link, even if it takes longer
  • The body responds to a caloric surplus by increasing the metabolism, which sets the stage to rapidly drop body fat by switching to a caloric deficit phase. A caloric deficit phase prompts an opposite reaction in which the metabolism slows down, setting the stage for size to quickly be gained when switching back to a phase of caloric surplus
  • While the approach is the same during a bulk phase, or cut phase, regardless of whether or not you pack on fat easily, or are a hard-gainer, there are different ‘rules’ that ought to be followed depending on your body type, and your body’s tendencies

CUSTOMIZING CYCLICAL BULKING TO YOUR BODY TYPE

So here’s what you do:

  1. Calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate, and multiply it by ANY number that best reflects your activity level between 1.0, and 2.0
  2. Establish a baseline in terms of the amount of calories you should take in per day – generally your bodyweight multiplied by 15 is a good starting point for most. For those who are prone to store fat, multiply your bodyweight by 13, or 14 to be conservative when establishing a baseline, and for those hard-gainers out there, multiply your bodyweight by 16, 17, or 18.
  3. In a perfect world your BMR, AND your bodyweight multiplied by 15 (or less for those prone to storing fat, or more for those hard-gainers) would align and be nearly identical – if the discrepancy is more than a couple hundred calories, than just go with the Harris-Benedict Formula. Give the body ample time to balance and adapt to the baseline by following if for a few weeks.
  4. Increase caloric consumption by 10-30% when bulking (those who are prone to store fat should start on the lower end, while hard-gainers can get away with cranking it up a little more), and follow up by increasing protein and carbs by 25 grams per day, each, as you go. Continue in this fashion until reaching your desired weight, unless you begin to add unnecessary fat – in which case it may be wise to implement a cut phase to temporarily take some of the fat off.
  5. Decrease caloric consumption by 10-20% when cutting (those who are prone to storing fat should decrease more than hard-gainers, since hard-gainers are more prone to losing weight in the form of muscle mass when cutting).

AND BECAUSE I LOVE YOU

Here are are the macronutrient breakdowns for bulking phases, and cutting phases, only this time with specifics for those who are prone to storing fat, and for hard-gainers.

STANDARD BREAKDOWN

Bulking phase – 30-35% protein, 20-25% fat, 40-50% carbs
Cutting phase – 35-40% protein, 20-25% fat, 35-45% carbs

FAT SENSITIVE BREAKDOWN

Bulking phase – 33-38% protein, 25-30% fat, 32-42% carbs
Cutting phase – 39-46% protein, 22-29% fat, 25-39% carbs

HARD-GAINER BREAKDOWN

Bulking phase – 25-32% protein, 25-30% fat, 38-50% carbs
Cutting phase – 37-44% protein, 24-31% fat, 25-39% carbs

What are your thoughts on bulking and muscle building? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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