In this blog post, I will explain what bulking is, why I get involved in bulking season and how to achieve a successful bulk. I will talk about the main differences between bulking and cutting and make recommendations such as when you should be bulking and cutting, as well as provide a bulking meal plan for you to adopt this winter season.
What Is Bulking?
In summary, the concept of bulking is simple: It involves eating more calories than you expend. Over time, given that the calories you are consuming contain sufficient protein and you are training regularly, you will add on more muscle and your overall bodyweight will consequently increase. During a season, gym-goers go through two main phases: bulking and cutting. The former normally takes place during the winter, while the latter takes place just before and/or during the summer. In general, you should adhere to a bulking or cutting phase for at least 8 to 12 weeks. Ensure that you don’t cut/bulk for longer than necessary, as prolonged dieting can lead to changes in your metabolism and hormone balance.
Benefits of Bulking and How to Bulk
Bulking has numerous benefits, the most notable being that you experience significant strength gains in the gym due to an increase in calories. This increase in strength leads to an increase in bone density and promotes muscle mass. On that note, the general aim of bulking is to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the body by increasing muscle mass; the two factors influencing this are nutrition and training. To increase muscle mass, individuals are required to eat above their maintenance calories/TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). This number usually depends how quickly you are trying to bulk and your personal risk-to-reward ratio (i.e., how much excess fat you are willing to temporarily gain by increasing your calories substantially for a short period of time). From experience, I recommend that for the first 1 to 2 months of a bulk phase, focus on increasing your calories by 250 to 500. After that phase is complete, assess where you are from an aesthetic and strength perspective, and if you are on track, focus on increasing your calories by 500 to 750 for the remainder of your bulking phase.
To minimise fat mass, ensure that the bulk of the added calories comes predominately from lean protein sources. This ensures that you are taking in enough nutrients to reach maximal musclebuilding potential while avoiding storage of excess fat. In conjunction with this, training in the gym is a prerequisite to ensure that the weight being gained is indeed muscle and not fat. The typical bodybuilding bulking workout regimen comprises of resistance training five or six times per week, with each muscle group being worked at least once per week. Your workouts should be intense, the weights relatively heavy (60-75% of your 1-rep max), and each exercise focused in the 6-10 rep range.
Bulking Rules 101
- To maximise muscle gain, you must be in a calorie surplus. However, being in a caloric surplus does not mean you should overindulge. A successful bulk is all about limiting fat gain and promoting lean mass gain. Focus on consuming complex carbohydrates such as oats, sweet potato, brown rice and brown pasta in combination with lean protein sources such as lean beef, salmon and chicken breast. Avoid junk food and takeaways.
- Stimulate muscle protein synthesis through proper nutrient distribution and timing. Focus on spacing out your meals throughout the course of the day. By consuming more meals and spreading these meals throughout the course of the day, muscle protein synthesis will be continuously stimulated, enabling you to have a successful bulk.
- Focus on adhering to clean calorie surplus. From experience, I focus on ensuring my calories come from clean, protein-rich and nutrient-dense food sources. I’ve never personally adhered to the method of “dirty bulking,” as I believe that what you put into your body is what you get out. Instead, I focus on feeding to fuel my body, workouts and recovery (and I ensure that I eat around the clock instead of eating when I am hungry). On training days, I will typically have more carbohydrates in comparison to non-training days to ensure I have energy through the duration of my workout. See my current meal plan below for an insight into what I currently eat daily.
- The bulking phase is supposed to be followed by a cutting phase. Once you’ve completed your bulk, the cutting phase proceeds to decrease overall fat levels; this involves cutting calories and implementing cardio to your regimen. Be sure not to cut your calories too drastically or do too much cardio, as this can have an adverse effect leading to muscle loss.
Differences Between Cutting and Bulking
|Decreased strength, more aesthetic
|Increased strength, less aesthetic
|Before and/or during summer season
Sample 3,000 Kcal Bulking Meal Plan
Below is my current bulking meal plan. I am currently consuming 3,000 calories per day with my macros split being approximately 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% fat. My post-workout protein supplement of choice this winter is MuscleTech Mass-Tech Elite. This high-protein musclebuilding mass gainer contains 80 grams of protein, 3 grams of creatine and 18 grams of naturally occurring BCAAs per serving, making it an excellent and staple supplement in my arsenal this winter.
Use the meal plan below as a guide for bulking and for meal timings and ideas.
3,500 Calorie Meal Schedule
Oats with blueberries, chia seeds
Scrambled eggs with 2 whole eggs, 6 egg whites
2 slices whole-wheat toast, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1 banana
Chicken breast, whole-grain rice, broccoli
MuscleTech Mass-Tech Elite High Protein Mass Gainer Shake, Vanilla Cake Flavour
Lean steak, sweet potato mash, asparagus, string beans
1 boiled egg, 0% fat Greek yoghurt, 1 cup granola
Overall, bulking and cutting are distinctive phases of a diet and workout plan designed for muscle gain or fat loss. During a bulk, you eat more calories and lift heavy weights to maximise muscle gain. Meanwhile, cutting involves eating fewer calories and a combination of weights and cardio to lose fat. Regardless of what phase you are in, ensure that you are adhering to the prerequisites of each phase, eating clean and training consistently to maximise your results in the long term.