The reality is when it comes to building muscle that the only way you’re going to make gains is to eat more. I can almost hear you asking me, how much more, how much protein, how many carbohydrates and fats, but I’ll cover all of that later on in this article.
Now, eating more does not mean shoving everything you can find inside and get fat, because there is a great way to build muscle and gain as little amount of fat, and that is called the lean bulk.
Before going into the best way to do the lean bulk etc, you need to ask yourself a few questions on whether you should be bulking or not.
- When to bulk
- Based on body fat levels
- Goal Physique
- Lifting experience
Based on body fat levels
In order to gain as much muscle mass as possible, you’ll need to spend as little time possible cutting.
This is because when we’re cutting (caloric deficit) we’re not building muscle, and cutting for too long can cause muscle loss and it’s not optimal for your hormones. So we want to maximize our bulking phase because that’s when we’re building muscle, but It all comes down to timing.
You need to know how much time you need to get lean, but how do you know when it’s time to cut?
Generally speaking is the cutoff body fat percentage for a bulk for males around 15-16%, and for females around 22-23%.
That’s why it’s not recommended to get to really high body fat percentages, because you’ll be spending too long getting down to your desired body fat percentage, and you risk the loss of muscle and hormonal issues.
The goal physique is different for everybody. Ones ultimate physique can be a shredded beach look, and the other is a bulky strong look.
That’s why the 15-16% body fat for males and 22-23% for females can be slightly adjusted with +2% or so, based on how your goal physique looks like.
If you’re a beginner you’re lucky because you may or may not know that as a beginner you can build muscle at a much faster rate and do it while still losing fat. This does not last forever, so I suggest you make the most of it while you can.
That’s why it’s recommended that beginners should try to stay at least at maintenance level or even be in a mild surplus even if they start a little bit above the body fat levels I mentioned before.
However, if you’re seriously overweight like I was when I first started out training, then cutting back on calories is the right thing to do. It will take longer to create your desired physique, but you know the results will be worth it.
The idea is to strip off the excess fat as fast as possible (within healthy limits though) through dieting and resistance training, and then start bulking and putting on more muscle size.
These are the criteria I’d suggest you’d consider before starting a bulk. Now let’s get into you should approach your bulk, or better your lean bulk.
How to lean bulk
Lean bulking isn’t all that difficult, but you need to understand your body and know how it responds to extra calories.
If you know you gain weight easily then start adding those extra calories slowly. If gaining weight is a struggle then you can introduce those calories quicker.
In general, you add 250-400 calories to your maintenance calories. This can vary per person, depending on their activity level and at how long they have been training.
Why a caloric surplus for a lean bulk?
To build muscle your body needs to be in an anabolic state, which means being in a caloric surplus.
When your body is in an anabolic state it repairs and grows damaged muscle tissue, and the protein synthesis is increased. As opposed to a catabolic state that involves the process of breaking down tissue to replenish depleted energy levels of the body.
To build muscle, you obviously need to lift weights, and in my opinion, you need to lift heavy ( with good form, of course). Adding extra calories will give you the energy that you need to lift heavy, will boost testosterone levels, and all of that will benefit you in putting on muscle mass.
Macro's and weight gain
When increasing your daily caloric intake, your macro’s automatically increased too but on a lean bulk which one increases, protein, carbs, or fats?
It’s actually quite simple, as long as you’re getting in enough protein, so 1 – 1.5 gram per pound of body weight there is no need to increase your protein intake. Your extra calories should primarily come from carbohydrates and a tiny bit of fat.
Eating the right carbohydrates will give you more energy for your workouts, and they digest quicker which makes it easier to eat your extra calories.
Now, let’s talk about weight gain and how much you should gain per week on a lean bulk.
Bulking is often associated with getting fat, which means people are scared to eat more and make gains. As mentioned earlier this is only partially true, because even on a lean bulk you’ll gain some fat, but if you do it smartly and keep track of everything you’ll gain only a tiny bit of fat.
The sweet spot is to gain no more than 0.5 – 1 pound each week. For most people, this will be split 50/50 between muscle and fat gain. So, basically, you will gain 1 pound of fat for each pound of muscle – which is a good ratio.
All you now have to do is set up your caloric surplus accordingly. Figuring out how fast you gain weight might take some time, but over time you’ll get the hang of it. As a beginner, you gain muscle much quicker so it’s best for them to stick more to the 1 pound per week range, and more advanced towards the 0.5 pound range.
Lean bulk tips
A lean bulk requires you to eat more, but not a whole lot. 200 calories above maintenance are usually enough to start off with. That’s literally a protein shake extra or a smoothie.
- If you have trouble even getting in your maintenance calories, I suggest taking a weight gainer shake. These can be bought online, or you can make them at home.
- Find carbohydrate sources that digest quickly, this allows you to eat more of them.
- Use carb timing to maximize your workouts.
- Nuts and butter have the highest number of calories per gram ( 9 calories per gram )
- Measure your waist before and during your bulk to make sure you’re not gaining fat too quickly.
- Don’t forget supplements. They’re not necessary but to maximize muscle gain, I suggest creatine as your best bet!
- Create healthy cheat meals.