Today, as it’s coming up to the bulking season, we’re going to be talking to you today about bulking up for bodybuilding as we look at what is bulking.
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s a distinct chill in the air, the nights are drawing in, and things are feeling decidedly festive.
For keen lifters, unless they’re any contests planned for the New Year, the Fall and Winter months signify the start of the off-season.
Now, contrary to what some gym bros will tell you, bulking up is not just an excuse to binge on copious amounts of calories and lift heavy-ass weights in the gym.
There is a fine art to bulking, and if you understand the science behind how muscle hypertrophy works, you’ll find it much easier to bulk up and pile on the right type of weight during the off-season.
But what is bulk up, how can it be done properly, what’s a ‘dirty bulk’ and what sorts of mistakes do people often make when trying to get huge?
That’s what we’re going to find out today.
So, sit back, get your feet up, grab a chilled mass gainer, and let’s look at the ultimate guide to bulking up.
Table Of Contents
As you have probably gathered, bulking up is a process in which people looking to build muscle and get bigger and more jacked than ever, will aim to literally get as big as possible.
This is achieved through diet and exercise.
The basic premise is that you create a caloric surplus in which you consume more calories than your body needs to maintain itself at its current size.
On top of this, you also train heavier than usual and with a higher intensity which means that, if done right, you build impressive amounts of muscle mass.
Now, muscle hypertrophy does not happen overnight, or even over a couple of weeks.
If you want to really bulk up and pack on the muscle mass, you need to be committed to bulking up for a good several months before you see any noticeable results.
The ultimate end goal to any bulk is to gain as much muscle mass and strength as possible, whilst keeping fat gain to a minimum.
Yes, you did read that right, when you bulk up, you need to resign yourselves to the fact that a little fat gain is inevitable.
If you’re obsessed with your abs and being super lean all year round, you’ll find that bulking will be a bit of a mind twist.
This is because, in order to bulk up, you need to create a caloric surplus.
This basically means that you consume calories that go above and beyond those required for your basal metabolic rate to maintain your body in its current form.
As you know, when you take in more calories than your body needs, rather than letting the excess go to waste, they are instead broken down and converted into body fat, which is stored for use at a later date.
So, when you bulk up, even though you should ideally be gaining much of your weight in the form of muscle mass, you will find that a little fat gain is virtually unavoidable.
When bulking, generally you can have abs, or you can bulk and get bigger, you can’t do both at the same time.
The choice is yours.
Put very simply, bulking up requires you to eat a lot of food and lift heavy weights and train intensely several times per week.
There is, however, a fine science behind bulking and getting to understand the basic fundamentals behind bulking up is very important.
For that reason, we are now going to share a few tried and tested tips for anybody trying to bulk up.
Want to truly understand what is bulk up?
If so, these tips will soon make things clear.
They say that muscle isn’t built in the gym at all, but rather, in the kitchen, and they are absolutely right.
If you want to bulk up and gain muscle mass, one of the first things you need to do is stock up on food and be prepared to eat well above maintenance.
The bottom line is that muscle hypertrophy cannot occur if you don’t eat enough calories, so be prepared to eat more than you’re used to.
A caloric surplus is essential for muscle growth and recovery, so if you aren’t taking in enough calories, this will need rectifying instantly.
In case you were wondering, bulking does not mean that you can eat one or two small meals during the day, before stuffing your face with an enormous dinner in the evening.
In order to perform better in the gym, increase nutrient absorption, improve digestion, and get the most from your meals, you will need to eat little and often.
Aim to consume between 6 and 8 meals per day, eating every 2 – 3 hours.
Of these meals, one or two can be protein shakes and/or mass gainers if you are using them.
Protein is a macronutrient which the body requires when it is building muscle and repairing muscle.
Without sufficient amounts of protein, you’ll find that you simply are unable to build muscle, no matter how hard you train.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, and so be sure to consume enough during any offseason. So, how much should you consume?
Well, some ridiculous “reports” online state that you should consume as much as 2g of protein per pound of bodyweight.
That would mean that a 240-pound man would need to consume 480g of protein per day if he wanted to bulk up and gain muscle.
That is simply not true.
Credible studies and research findings from reliable sources have found that between 0.6 – 1g of protein per pound of body weight is sufficient for bulking.
For maintenance, between 0.4g and 0.6g per pound of body weight will do the job.
To make things easier, we recommend aiming for a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Also, you can check what anabolic diet and how it works.
We’re going to give dirty bulking its own section a little later on in this guide.
For now, though, we’re quickly going to talk about the importance of eating the right foods, especially when bulking.
When you bulk, okay, you can have dessert with your meal now and then if you wish, and you can treat yourself more often than when cutting and dieting down for a competition.
For the majority of the time, though, you should make sure that you are placing an emphasis on consuming the right healthy foods.
Eat a serving of veggies or fruit with each meal, prioritize complex carbs, get protein from clean sources such as chicken, fish, organic eggs, grass-fed meat, and pulses, and don’t forget to get enough healthy fats.
Eating clean foods will not only help you to train better in the gym, but it will also improve your health, improve your digestion, assist with nutrient absorption rates, and help you to stay leaner during your bulk.
During the off-season, the aim of your bulk is to grow.
This can be achieved through diet and training.
We’ve focused a lot on diet so far, but for now, were going to look at training.
The goal of any bulk is to build as much muscle mass as possible, so be sure to follow the right training regime and train intensely, for example, The Power Tower workout.
Don’t just go through the motions when lifting, really push yourself as hard as you can.
Train to failure on each working set, squeeze out a few extra forced reps, throw on a little more weight, cut back on rest periods, and do whatever else you can to shock the muscles into growing.
Because your strength and energy levels will be up during your bulk because of the extra calories you’re taking in, you’ll find that you can train heavier than usual.
If training heavy, be sure to have a spotter on hand and be sure to take the muscle to failure on each working set.
If you get to the end of your working set and you could easily have squeezed out another couple of reps or more, the weight simply wasn’t heavy enough, and you weren’t training intensely enough.
Muscle hypertrophy can only be achieved when you really shock the muscles and break down as many muscle fibers as possible.
Just remember that there’s training heavy, and there’s training like a fool, so don’t try lifting ridiculously heavyweights that you know you’re going to struggle with after a couple of reps, as that is a recipe for an injury.
We mentioned fat earlier when talking about healthy food, but we’re going to go over it properly now.
Fatwas once demonized and blamed for every health issue plaguing the human race.
We now know that fat isn’t necessarily as bad as was once thought.
Trans fats like those found in fast food are, so put down the greasy take out and instead look for healthy fat sources.
Foods such as nut butter, nuts, seeds, oily fish, whole eggs, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, and grass-fed butter are considered very good for us, provided we consume them in moderation.
Fats help to balance our blood sugar levels, they stabilize our hormones, they give us energy, and they improve nutrient absorption I.E fat-soluble vitamins.
One gram of fat contains 9 calories, as opposed to carbs and protein, that contain 4 calories.
Because of this, too much fat can promote weight gain in the form of body fat.
When bulking, though, fat is useful because the aim of bulk is to consume more calories than you need.
If you’re struggling to eat enough, and yes, that is a common issue when bulking, fat is useful because you require less of it to hit your macros.
Again, just remember to get fats from healthy sources.
You can read about gaining muscle on keto and get a general idea about what is it.
As mentioned, when bulking, ideally, you’ll want to build as much muscle mass as possible, whilst keeping fat gain to a minimum.
This is where cardio comes into the mix.
Forget that nonsense about cardio hurting your gains because unless you’re planning on spending upwards of 3 hours on cardio each session, your body will not tap into your muscle tissue reserves at all.
What cardio will do is help to burn fat and keep your body fat levels under control when bulking.
It will also improve your health and fitness, which is worth it in itself.
At least 3 times per week, aim for around 45 – 60 minutes of moderately intense cardio.
Once you are certain that your diet is on point, then you can consider a mass gainer supplement.
These supps contain protein, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carbs, and fats and are high in calories.
They’re designed to be consumed in place of a meal and can help get you closer to your daily macro targets.
Without a shadow of a doubt, when bulking up, you should always try to clean bulk.
A dirty bulk is basically an excuse to binge on whatever you like, to go crazy with caloric intakes, and to use it as an excuse to gain weight and call it bulking.
You will bulk up, there’s no denying that, but the majority of the weight you gain on a dirty bulk will be fat.
You will, therefore, be very disappointed when you work extremely hard to diet down and strip away all the unsightly fat you gained when bulking, only to find that you’ve barely gained any lean muscle tissue at all.
When it comes to people wondering what is bulking, bulking should always be done in a controlled manner, with a diet consisting of primarily healthy and nutritious foods.
Now and then, if you fancy dessert after a meal, or if you do want to treat yourself to takeout once a week perhaps, you can on a clean bulk.
Don’t dirty bulk, though, and eat those unhealthy foods on a daily basis as not only will your waistline suffer, but so too will your health.
Reda is an ACE Certified Nutritionist, Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt and bodybuilder with 11 years of experience. He's been published on many influential websites such as lifehack.org, Wealthy Gorilla, Good Men Project and more.