A man holding dumbbells in a gym. Mike Harrington/Getty Images
How can you bulk up? In simple terms that means eating more and training heavier in order to gain muscle weight. While most of us who practice bodybuilding are trying to lose fat as we gain muscle, there are some people who are interested in just bulking up.
There could be many reasons for this:
- A person who practices a sport, such as football, that may require a certain weight.
- A bodybuilder who simply wants to go up a weight class (if he or she competes) or who simply wants to go on an exclusive muscle gain phase (like most bodybuilders do during Winter).
The Right Way to Bulk Up
Like everything, there is a right way and a wrong way to do things.
I see many people who in an attempt to gain weight just start eating everything in sight, and thus, either overtax their digestive systems, thus not being able to eat several times a day, and/or simply start gaining too much body fat, as the case is for those without a hardgainer metabolism.
In order to gain quality weight, the nutrients taken in have to be of a high quality nature. While some hardgainers have such a fast metabolism that they could benefit from also adding cheat meals to their nutrition plan, the best way to gain weight is through a planned and controlled increase in macronutrient intake. By ensuring that the quality of the nutrients is high (such as low glycemic index carbohydrates, low fat proteins and high quality fats) muscle weight gain is optimized and fat weight is minimized.
However, in order for a bulk up phase to be effective, it needs to be executed properly. Otherwise, you end up gaining way too much body fat, which at the end of the day, whether you just want to look good for the beach over the summer or participate at a bodybuilding competition, you will need to lose anyways.
In this bulk up/weight gain guide I'll teach you the bulking up rules to gaining some solid muscle weight while minimizing fat gains.
When To Bulk Up
First of all, bulking up is not about eating everything in sight and trying to lift as heavy as possible hoping that all of the increased weight gain will come in the form of muscle. This old school strategy will only lead to excessive fat gain. The best time, in my opinion, to bulk up is after you have been dieting for a long period of time. At this time your body will act like a sponge and absorb all of the nutrients that you give it at peak efficiency in response to the fact that it has not been getting such an influx of nutrients for a while.
If you are above 10% body fat, in which case you cannot see your abs, then you need to concentrate on losing body fat up until the point (at the very least) where you can see the top two rows of abs (when you have a four pack). Your bulk up plan will work even better, however, if you get down to where you can easily see your full abdominal wall (which is around 6-7% body fat for most people) as when you increase calories in this state, your body will be more primed to gain most of the weight in the form of muscle mass in response to the low calorie period that came before it.
Bulking Up Basics
Having said that know that while most of the weight that you will gain will be in the form of muscle, some of it will be in the form of fat no matter how good your diet is. The reason for that is the fact that on a state of caloric surplus (when you feed your body more calories than what is burned) some of those calories are stored as body fat. However, by bulking up on good foods, by training hard and by starting from a low percentage of body fat, you will minimize the fat gain and maximize the muscle mass gain.
Bulking Up Diet Basics
Now that you know what to expect from a bulk up cycle, let’s cover how to design a bulk up diet:
Bulking Up Basic #1
Increase your protein intake to 1.5 grams of protein per pound bodyweight. Therefore, if you weigh 200lbs, you need to eat around 300 grams of protein per day. I have noticed that if I eat more than 40 grams of protein in one sitting I feel lethargic and have issues digesting the food. Therefore, divide 300 by 40 and that will give you the amount of meals that you need to eat per day. In this example, the 200-lb bodybuilder will need to eat, around 7-8 meals per day spaced out with a minimum of 90 minutes in between meal and a maximum of 3 hours. Protein sources should come from lean low fat sources like chicken, turkey, 93% lean red meats, tuna, egg whites, shrimp, tilapia, mackarel, and salmon.
Bulking Up Basic #2
Increase your carbohydrate intake to between 1.5-2 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight. In order to gain muscle, a carbohydrate increase will be required to keep your energy levels high, and thus fuel your workouts, and in order to help shuttle the amino acids from your proteins into the muscle tissue (since carbohydrates increase insulin levels and insulin is necessary for the transport of the aminos into the muscle).
The key thing to ensure that muscle mass is maximized as opposed to fat gain when consuming carbohydrates is to ensure that your intake of them is mostly from low glycemic index ones (slow digesting/released carbs) like brown rice, oatmeal, pasta and sweet potatoes. Limit the higher glycemic complex carbs (like cream of rice) and simple carbs (like bananas) for after the workout when the body needs fast released carbs and proteins in order to quick start the recovery and re-building process and also to help refuel the energy stores (glycogen levels in the muscle and liver) that have been drained. Also, ensure that you eat half of your carbohydrates split between the times that the body is most receptive to them, which is the morning time (first meal) and post workout time.