If you are serious about your gains you should know that you can’t really get stronger and bigger while cutting back on calories. Most, if not all the gains that you will ever make will happen in a caloric surplus, that’s just the way our body works. You need to eat in order to grow. Muscle growth is very much related to caloric intake rather than proteins (which are still important).
Yet many hesitate to go into bulking mode because they afraid they will get fat. This fear is not totally ungrounded. If overdone, bulking can result in a lot of fat gain which will cover all the muscle mass you may have, there will be no separation between the muscles and because of this you will actually look ‘smaller’ than you did when you were leaner.
As you can see it looks like we’re in a vicious circle – eat to build muscle, but don’t eat to stay lean. Read on, see how to get rid of this dilemma and start gaining lean muscle mass right now.
Why the ‘eat big to get big’ theory it’s not a good idea
This is where many people do things wrong. There’s this myth going around that you can only build muscle if you eat outrageous amounts of food such as 5,000+ kcal a day of eating 6+ meals a day, or eating every 2-3 hours to keep your body in an anabolic state all the time. It’s all bullshit folks!
Yes, building muscle happens in a caloric surplus, but you only need a mild surplus to build muscle at your maximum growth rate from a genetic point of view. Eating more will not make your muscle grow faster.
Eating like crazy will only get you fat in no time. The excess calories will go into fat storage because the muscles can’t keep up with the avalanche of food you are taking in.
That’s why eating too much is a waste of food in fact and it’s not optimal in terms of muscle gain to fat gain ratio. This is what you need to be careful at – muscle to fat gain ratio.
Yes, you will put on some fat during a bulk, but you can set your diet in a way such that the amount of fat gain will be minimized and the amount of muscle growth will be maximized.
Minimize fat & maximize muscle
This is the key to a solid bulk that will help you put on solid muscle while staying fairly lean throughout your bulking period – minimize fat gain and maximize muscle growth.
A very good rate is 1:1 – which means that for each pound of muscle you gain you gain 1 pound of fat. If you are gaining fat at a faster rate is means you are eating too much or your training is not as effective as it should be.
If you are growing muscle at a faster rate it means you have awesome genetics and you should keep doing whatever you are doing both in terms of training and dieting.
You may ask yourself – how will I know how much fat and how much muscle I am gaining? That’s a great question with a very simple answer – body fat percentage.
Your body fat percentage will pretty much tell you what your lean mass is and what your fat free mass is. Let’s take an example to make things easier to understand.
Let’s say you start your bulk at 160 pounds and 10% body fat. This means you have 16 pounds of fat mass and 144 pounds of fat free mass (lean mass).
If at the end of your bulk you weigh in at 180 pounds and 15% body fat you will be at 27 pounds of fat and 153 pounds of lean mass. This means you have put on 9 pounds of muscle and 11 pounds of fat – which is not exactly a 1 to 1 ratio but still pretty close.
A very inexpensive and easy way to measure the body fat level yourself at home is by using a fat caliper. It’s probably not super accurate as the more expensive methods, but if you are consistent with the measurements you can definitely tell if you are gaining more fat or more muscle.
Another great way of determining if you are getting fat too fast when bulking is by measuring your waist (1 inch below your belly button level). Most people hold most of the fat around the mid section, therefore a waist size that increases (too much) means you are probably overdoing it and you need to cut back on the calories.
What’s a good weight gain rate?
To keep the answer short, when you’re bulking you want to be gaining half a pound to 1 pound each week. That’s the sweet spot for lean bulking. If you are within these limits you are good.
As you can see, if you are gaining just half a pound a week this means you can bulk for 40 weeks straight and be just 20 pounds heavier. My point – lean bulking takes a lot of time and you need to have patience. Muscle growth does not happen overnight.
|YEAR OF PROPER TRAINING||POTENTIAL MUSCLE GAINS|
|CATEGORY||RATE OF MUSCLE GROWTH|
|Beginner||1-1.5% of total body weight per month|
|Intermediate||0.5-1% of total body weight per month|
|Advanced||0.25-0.5% of total body weight per month|
The Lye McDonald and Alan Aragon models are considered to be quite accurate by the fitness community and if you take a look at the above table you can see that muscle growth is set at about 20 pounds a year for the beginners. This means less than 0.5 pounds a week (around 0.38 pounds to be more exact).
That’s why a 0.5 to 1 pounds weight gain per week is considered to be reasonable for most people, when bulking. Of course this will depend on your level of experience with lifting weights.
If you are still making your beginner gains you probably need to be closer to the 1 pound per week mark. On the other hand if you have been lifting for some time and have spend a few years in the gym you will probably more towards the half a pound a week mark, if not lower.
How much to eat?
Setting caloric intake to be within these limits can be tricky and as you will see you only need to be eating slightly more to get there. Let’s see how much more food you need to eat in order to make the most muscle gains while still staying lean.
There is a very simple answer to this question actually. You need to eat just the right amount that will make you gain weight at 0.5 to 1 pounds per week. You can find this by yourself if you constantly measure your weight and caloric intake.
To save you some time, the caloric surplus you need to be looking at is 5 to 10% over your maintenance level. Yes, just 5-10%. That’s all your body needs to get into an anabolic state, increase protein synthesis and build muscle and the fastest possible rate, naturally, while minimizing fat storage.
For example, if you maintain your weight at 2,200-2,400 kcal (like I do), you only need to eat about 200 kcal more, that’s it! You can get your extra 200 kcal from just 100 grams of meat, a tall glass of milk or one baked potato. That’s how little food it takes.
I guess it’s pretty obvious now while so many people and fat as hell after doing a traditional dirty bulk and why so many people are afraid to bulk – because they don’t know how to do it properly. You can actually bulk and walk around with a six pack if you are on top of your diet.
I’ve been talking a little bit about calorie rollover in the past as a cutting technique, but this can be used during bulking as well. The idea is quite simple – you can roll over to tomorrow the calories you didn’t eat today.
For example, if you are lean bulking with 2,700 kcal a you only eat 2,400 kcal today, it means that tomorrow you can eat 3,000 kcal. The purpose of calorie rollover during lean bulk is to actually make it feel like you are bulking, at least for some of the days.
Just 200 kcal extra a day is not much at all and it might even feel like being on a diet. That’s why ‘saving up’ on calories for a couple of days and the roll them over to a high calories day will probably make it feel more like a bulk.
A good strategy is to save some of the extra calories for the weekend when most people tend to over eat anyways, attend social events, dinners out with the friends or family. The idea is to adjust lean bulking to your personal lifestyle so that it allows you to enjoy life.