Winter is coming, which means it’s time for many fitness enthusiasts and budding bodybuilders to focus on bulking up and adding muscle mass. However, a ‘bulk’ isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. Many don’t think twice about shovelling their faces with junk and watching the numbers on the scale go up, thinking they’re adding muscle when really it’s just fat.
This article will present you with my top tips on a successful bulk to ensure you put on quality, lean muscle with minimal fat gains.
TIP #1: Keep it clean
Just because you are focussing on bulking up, doesn’t mean you have to overdo it. Nor does it mean you can eat whatever you wish. You should focus on eating clean foods which are healthy sources of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Some of the foods you should look to consume would be as follows:
✓ Chicken, turkey, lean beef
✓ Peanut butter (and other nut butters)
✓ Oily fish
✓ Nuts and beans
✓ Brown rice, whole wheat pasta
✓ Sweet potatoes
Furthermore, when bulking it is key to not forego your micro-nutrients.
Getting in all your daily vitamins and minerals is essential to overall health. Some foods you should focus on eating to get your micros in would be as follows:
✓ Kale & spinach
With regards to calories, depending on how slow you want to take the bulk, I would recommend eating 250-500 calories over your maintenance level.
TIP #2: Track your intake
Whilst most track their macro-nutrient intake during a cutting phase, many forego doing so when they are bulking. If you ask me, they are missing a trick.
By tracking your macros on a bulk, you can ensure you are hitting your daily calorie goal and adjust accordingly. For example, it may come to the end of the day and you are lacking for protein, so you can make yourself a protein shake to compensate. Chances are you wouldn’t have known this had you not been tracking.
A simple way of tracking your macros is by using an app called ‘MyFitnessPal’. You can enter your calorie/macronutrient goals and then add foods you eat throughout the day either by searching their database or scanning the barcode on the packaging of the food. You can also add your own meals for ease.
TIP #3: Sleep
Whilst getting enough sleep is essential for our everyday health and wellbeing, it is also vital when bulking. Lack of sleep and increased levels of stress will delay recovery from your workouts meaning that you won’t be able to push as hard the next day.
Furthermore, during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, HGH (human growth hormone) is produced. This is required for us to grow and if we do not get enough sleep, we will not produce enough to grow. Simple.
It is recommended that you get at least 7-8 hours’ sleep every night to aid your general wellbeing and boost HGH production.
When bulking, you want to allocate yourself a time-frame which it will span. You should stick to this time-frame for the duration and try not to cut it short. Many people cut their bulk short if they aren’t seeing the desired results or they believe they are accumulating too much fat. If they is the case, adjust your calories accordingly and continue ‘bulking’ to see if you notice a change, rather than throwing in the towel.
It is recommended that a slow, lean bulk should last around 6-8 months. This gives you enough time to build some quality muscle and means you shouldn’t gain too much fat as long as you are keeping your diet clean.
TIP #5: Track your progress
Similar to tip #2, tracking your progress is essential when bulking to see how far you have come and how far away from your goals you are. When tracking your progress, you should focus on measuring weight, body fat as well as body measurements.
I would recommend weighing yourself a few times a week, recording your weekly progress. Don’t focus too much on day to day weights, since it can fluctuate somewhat. Focus on gaining 0.5-1 pound per week. Furthermore, I would recommend taking body measurements every month, or fortnight if you are just starting out. You should measure across your shoulders, chest, arms, waist, hips, thighs and calves.
By tracking your progress, you can change your plan accordingly if you aren’t achieving the results you desire. For example, if your body fat is rising too much you can cut your calories back. Likewise, if you aren’t gaining weight quick enough then you can increase your calories by a little.
TIP #6: Cardio
Many people will tell you not to do cardio whilst on a bulk. I disagree. Whilst I agree that you should not overdo it, you shouldn’t overlook it either.
Cardio helps to keep your cardiovascular system healthy, as well as boosting your mental wellbeing and reducing stress. Weight training can be aerobically taxing, therefore it is beneficial to do some cardiovascular exercise to condition your heart so that you will be able to push harder during your workouts. Furthermore, somebody who performs cardio and is fit will burn more fat than somebody who doesn’t, so performing cardio whilst on a bulk can help keep your body fat down.
It is recommended to do 2-3 sessions of cardio per week. This could be HIIT (high intensity interval training) which you could do after a workout, or LISS (low intensity steady state) which can be done at any point throughout the day. I would recommend that you don’t do cardio before weight training since it can be physically draining meaning you won’t be able to push as hard. After all, building muscle is the goal.
TIP #7: Supplementation
Whilst not being essential to a bulk, supplements can seriously improve your results. There are many different types of supplements out there which are suited to different individuals with different goals. Choosing the right supplements is very important.
Pre-workouts are excellent for anyone who want an energy boost for their work out if they are tired throughout the day and need a kick start for their gym session. It helps you to push hard throughout the duration of your workout so you won’t feel as tired and drained.
Creatine is also a brilliant supplement. It works by increasing the rate that ADP is turned into ATP (energy). This short term energy is great for fast twitch muscle fibres which are used when weight training for short, intense lifts as well as sprints. It also promotes water entering your muscles via osmosis giving them a fuller look.
Whey protein is probably the most popular supplement out there. It is a cheap and convenient way of boosting your protein intake throughout the day and can be bought in a range of delicious flavours.
Check out our article on the best supplements on a budget, if you wish to learn more about some of the supplements that are available or don’t want to break the bank.
TIP #8: Stick to a routine
Sticking to a specific gym routine, especially when on a bulk, is essential for your results.
You should know exactly what muscle you are training when you enter the gym, as well as what exercises you are going to perform and the reps/sets you will do for each one. You can create your plan, or find one of many which are available online.
If you are creating your own plan, you should try to stick to a rep range of between 8-12 reps for hypertrophy, doing 3-4 sets. You also shouldn’t overdo it with the number of exercises, but shouldn’t slack either. Try to do 4-6 exercises per muscle group if you are focussing on just one muscle each day, or 2-3 if you are working multiple muscles.
You should also try to incorporate some volume into your workouts, such as drop sets or supersets. This will help you to create the most muscle damage as possible so that you can grow them even larger.
TIP #9: Deload
De-loading is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to bulking that is often overlooked.
When you feel weak, start to plateau or constantly feel sore, you should consider doing a de-load week. The easiest way to do this is do your normal workouts but perform all of your sets at 40-60% of your 1RM weight. Do your usual number of reps/sets but give your body a rest with the weight.
De-loading can help you overcome a plateu as it gives your body a rest whilst not foregoing the gym altogether. Following a de-load, you can then look at taking the next step in strength and size gains. As a rule of thumb, I would recommend a de-load week every 2 months or whenever you feel it is necessary.
TIP #10: Be realistic
Lastly, be realistic. Gains won’t come overnight.
You need to be patient, stick with it and give yourself a realistic goal. Don’t try to look like someone else or compare yourself to them. Instead use them as motivation. If you have realistic goals then you are more likely to achieve them.
Take Home Message
Bulking isn’t as simple as eating what you want and getting huge. You need to make sure you are getting everything right and you will see results. By following these 10 tips you will be on your way to making some serious gains!
Check out some of the other articles here on The Zone for tips on nutrition and training to help aid your bulk further.