Sadly, the end of summer is slowly approaching, but on the bright side that means bulking season is upon us. Here’s a simple guide on how to get the most out of your bulk…
Why Bulk In The First Place?:
Bulking, the practice of intentionally gaining weight in order to accrue additional muscle mass, has been a common practice in bodybuilders for decades. For years bodybuilders have used their off-seasons to put on weight in order both to allow their body to recover from competition and to come back stronger for the next competition.
“Bulking” is characterized by a sustained period of time spent in a caloric surplus, providing the body with additional energy for recovery. The strategic combination of a prolonged calorie surplus with a quality weightlifting routine is a perfect recipe for muscle growth.
A caloric surplus is defined as consuming more calories than you are burning, resulting in some “leftover” calories that your body can utilize to whatever it deems necessary. The point of a calorie surplus is basically to give your body a “surplus” of energy, more than it requires to maintain homeostasis or keep you and all of your cells functioning properly. Your body has to do something with this extra energy and will generally store the energy as fat, unless it has an additional external demand or stress placed on it, like resistance training.
Resistance training more commonly referred to as weightlifting is a common form of exercise that’s most commonly used to grow bigger and stronger muscles. Although in order for your body to prioritize muscle growth, it must have the energy required to do so. Muscle growth is an energy intensive process and doing so means your body must divert resources away from other areas of the body. That is unless your body has a ‘surplus’ of energy, more than it requires, giving it additional energy to devote to muscle growth.
3 Tips For A Successful Bulk:
If you’ve never done a true ‘bulk’ before it can be a bit tricky. On one hand you may be a bit too timid, use too small of a surplus resulting in very little progress. On the other hand you can easily go overboard and gain too much weight too quickly, resulting in excess fat gain. So here are some tips to get the most out of your bulk:
1. Slow & Steady Wins The Race -
Depending on how long you’ve been lifting, how much muscle mass you’ve already gained, genetics, diet, among a number of other lifestyle factors will determine the rate at which you’re able to put on muscle mass. But even if it’s your first day in the gym, muscle growth is a very slow and almost tedious process and as such the tortoise is always going to beat the hare. Using a small calorie surplus, consisting of about 10% more calories above your maintenance calories, is a great strategy to maximize muscle growth while minimizing fat gain.
Think about it this way, being in a calorie surplus puts your body at an extreme advantage to put on muscle mass compared to being at maintenance or in a calorie deficit. Therefore the longer you remain in a calorie surplus, the more opportunity you have to put on more muscle mass. Theoretically you can remain in a caloric surplus almost indefinitely, but you’re also going to gain fat alongside the muscle from the calorie surplus and at some point you’ll likely reach a point where you’ve accumulated a bit too much fat for your liking. The smaller your calorie surplus is, the more likely you are to put on muscle than fat and the longer you can remain in a surplus. Although remember it’s important to not use too small of a surplus or you will limit the amount of muscle you put on.
2. Don’t Be Afraid To Put On Some Fat -
Being in a calorie surplus is basically a necessity to gain any serious amount of muscle mass, but sadly this comes at the cost of gaining some fat as well. This is something that many people struggle with when doing a bulking cycle for the first time, as they don’t want to gain any fat, but this is a necessary evil that will pay off in dividends in the long run.
Although gaining some fat is a necessary evil to put on some muscle, it’s not without its perks. For the first time you’ll fill out a lot of clothes in all the right places. For guys this means filling out your sleeves, as your arms and shoulders grow and for girls this means your glutes (booty) and legs filling out.
Additionally, there are many long-term benefits of gaining muscle mass like: increased bone density, improved insulin sensitivity, increased blood flow, but most importantly increased metabolic rate and the appearance of lower body fat. Every pound of muscle that you gain will slightly increase your metabolic rate, so you burn more calories and can therefore eat more calories making it easier to maintain your weight. Additionally, having more muscle mass literally increases the amount of surface area where your fat mass resides. Basically this spreads out your fat mass over a larger area, making you appear leaner or more cut.
3. Cut Before You Bulk -
Lastly, before starting your bulk one of the most effective things you can do is to cut or utilize a calorie surplus to lose body fat. The less body fat that you start off with the longer you’ll be able to stay in a calorie surplus without gaining too much body fat. If you start bulking at a point where you are already insecure about the amount of body fat you have it’s unlikely that you will be able to bulk for any prolonged amount of time, limiting the amount of muscle mass that you will gain.
If you are in a position between the two where you have a bit too much body fat, but really want to gain muscle I recommend using a recomposition strategy. Recomposition uses a calorie surplus on days that you lift and a calorie deficit to match that of the surplus on rest days. So if you lift 4 times per week and each day you’re in about a 300 calorie surplus, then on your rest days you would consume enough food to be in a 400 calorie deficit, so overall you’re at maintenance and don’t gain any weight. In theory this will allow you to gain muscle while losing fat by supplying your body with additional calories for muscle growth on lifting days, but compensating for the additional calories on rest days. This isn’t the most efficient way to gain muscle and/or lose fat, but it allows you to do both simultaneously at an albeit slower rate.
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