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How To Bulk Up Fast | As Proven By Science

How To Bulk Up Fast | As Proven By Science
Alice Pearson
Writer and expert7 days ago
View Alice Pearson's profile

Spring, summer, autumn, and bulking season — that sounds about right, yeah? Well, that’s the case for many fitness enthusiasts, who take advantage of these next few months to pack on some mass and bulk up.

As humans, we generally love food — so most of you should find the ‘eating a hell of a lot of food’ part of bulking rather enjoyable. And yes, if you up your calorie intake without going mad on the cardio, you will put on weight and increase fat mass, but is bulking that simple?

Here we’re going to give you some advice on how to bulk the correct way — that is with the goal of maximising muscle growth, whilst minimising fat gains. So, if you thought pizza, chips, and ice cream will be included in your diet — this is no dirty bulk.

In this article, you'll find:

Fuel your workout

Right, imagine you’ve just got into your car to head off on a wonderful adventure. Say this adventure only takes you around the corner — you’ll only need a little bit of fuel to get you there. But what if you’re driving right across the country? Then you’ll need a full tank of fuel to last the journey. Or, if you forgot to fuel up at all, you’ll end up getting out of the car and spending an unadventurous day sulking.

You probably know where we’re going with this — you’re the car, fuel is nutrition, and the journey is your workout. But how should you fuel when bulking?

What should I eat to bulk up fast?

Like we said, just because you’re bulking, it’s not an excuse to over-do it on the junk food and double your calorie intake – keep it clean for lean gains. We’re talking good quality sources of protein, such as chicken breasts, fish, eggs, and plain yoghurt — these are rich in essential amino acids, which are needed to build new muscle proteins.1

The amino acid which is deemed most important for building muscle is leucine — a branched chain amino acid. Leucine is the best stimulator of the metabolic pathway that leads to the production of new muscle proteins — it’s basically the ‘on switch’.2 It’s recommended that you consume 50 mg per kg of body mass of leucine daily, which can be achieved through your diet (chicken, tuna, and tofu are good options) or a supplement (whey protein has the highest leucine content).3

If you're not in the know on amino acids, check out this article:
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You also need a good amount of carbohydrates to recover properly from your workout. Carbohydrates are mainly stored in the body as muscle glycogen and are the main fuel source used during exercise. After your workout, your muscle glycogen stores need topping back up to make sure you’re ready for the next session — eating carbs is the way to do this.4

Good options include:
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Rice
  • Potatoes & sweet potatoes
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Oats
  • Fruit

Fats are the most energy-dense macronutrient, packing in 9 calories per gram — that’s more than twice that of protein and carbs. So, increasing your fat intake is an easy way to boost your calorie intake and enter a caloric surplus. BUT, this also means it’s easy to go overboard and consume too many calories from fats — so portion control is key. Opt for ‘good fats’ (mono- and poly- unsaturated fats) such as:

  • Nuts & nut butters
  • Seeds
  • Avocado
  • Oils
  • Dairy products

Amidst all of this, don’t neglect your micronutrients — vitamins and minerals are essential for overall health, so make sure to eat a variety of fruit and veg in your diet.

When to eat for bulking?

In order to bulk up and gain lean muscle mass, you need to be in a state of positive nitrogen balance — this is when muscle synthesis (building) is greater than muscle breakdown. To do this, try to eat some protein (about 20 g) every 3-4 hours — key times are with breakfast, post-workout, and before bed.5 This could be made up of three meals, plus a few snacks or shakes in between.

Like we said, carbohydrates are the main energy source you use for day-to-day life, as well as exercise, so ideally you want to be eating carbs throughout the day. Since carbohydrates play a key role in exercise recovery — by replenishing muscle glycogen stores — it’s important to get some carbs in after your session.4 This could be as simple as having a glass of milk, or even better, shake it up with some protein powder and tick off two nutrition goals in one.

More about carbs:

Still, be sensible with your carb intake and switch up the quantity depending on how much training you’ve done. If it’s a rest day, you won’t need as many carbs (or total calories) compared to on a heavy training day. As a guide, keep your carb intake around 3 g per kg of body weight on rest or light-training days (that’s about 240 g if you weigh 80 kg, for example) and increase to meet the demands of your training.6

Track your progress and see how your body is responding to the food you’re eating, but remember, bulking isn’t a race.

How to bulk up fast with supplements

Supplements aren’t essential for a bulk, but they can help make the process easier for you. They’re convenient for when you’re busy on the go, easy for meeting your requirements, and fast if you can’t be bothered to cook! When it comes to bulking season, here are the best supplements to try:

  • Protein powders – whey, casein, soy, pea etc.
  • Protein bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Creatine
  • Leucine
  • Mass gainers (carbohydrate and protein blends)
  • Caffeine – for a pre-workout boost
More info on bulking supps:
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Tailor your training to bulk

Now that you’ve got the diet nailed, what about your training? It’s good to mix up your workouts so your body doesn’t get too used to doing the same thing. Giving your muscles a new stimulus by changing the exercise type, intensity, or duration will make them adapt, evolve, and grow.

Ever done weight training on a muscle you forgot you had and the next day it feels on fire? Well you’ll probably notice the next time you train that muscle, it won’t be so sore afterwards — this is due to ‘training adaptations’ and is important during bulking.

With that in mind, here are some exercises that are great to help you bulk up and start building muscle— remember to mix it up:

  • Compound exercises (squats, deadlifts, bench press)
  • Resistance exercises
  • Calisthenics (pull-ups, press-ups, triceps dips etc.)
  • HIIT (high intensity interval training)
  • Full-body workouts
  • Steady-state cardio

Yes, you heard it right. Cardio is important for maintaining cardiovascular health and overall fitness, so even when you’re bulking, you should fit in a few sessions a week. Don’t go too crazy though – cardio can burn a lot of calories, so make sure you fuel up well).

Recover properly

You may be thinking “the more you train, the more you gain”, but this is a great misconception. In fact, failing to recover properly from your workouts or ‘overtraining’ could actually hinder the bulking process.

When you perform resistance training, your muscle fibres are damaged — they stretch, tear, and are broken down. It’s during the recovery process that your muscles repair and re-build — growing bigger and stronger — making exercise recovery a key part of bulking successfully.7

Most of us associate bulking with lifting heavier weights or performing more reps. Overall tougher sessions to drive your muscles to grow. Well, poor recovery could stop you from doing this.

Keen to prioritise recovery? More on that here:
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In a study of resistance-trained males, none of them were able to achieve their 10 rep max (maximum weight lifted for 10 reps) across 8 exercises after only 24 hours of recovery. Even after 4 days of rest, only 80% of participants could hit their 10 RM.8

Give yourself a few days of rest before training the same muscle group to reap the full bulking benefits of the session. Plus, you put yourself at greater risk of injury, so don’t push too hard too soon.

Of course, don’t forget nutrition — you want to get some carbs back into your muscles within 30 minutes after your session. As for protein, you’ve got a larger window — the 2 hours after your workout is the best time to eat protein to optimise muscle growth.9

Protein timing is more important than you might think...
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Sleep – it’s important

Getting enough sleep is important for your overall health and well-being. A bad night’s rest, or continuously getting too little sleep can have negative effects on your physiological and cognitive function — and won’t do your bulk any favours either.10

During non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep — this is when you’re asleep, but not dreaming — your body releases growth hormone. As the name would suggest, this hormone is involved in tissue growth and repair. You also release anabolic (building) hormones during NREM, which prevent the breakdown of muscle proteins and help you keep your muscle mass.11

When you’re bulking, you want to make sure there’s enough growth and anabolic (muscle building) hormones hitting your muscles by getting enough NREM sleep — at least 7 hours a night should do it.

The best supps to support sleep:

Most common bulking mistakes

Bulking might seem simple — protein, calories, training, sleep — but there are so many mistakes we can (and do) make along the way that puts on mass in the wrong places.

1. Bulking too hard

You finally finish your cut, reach a body fat level you’re happy with, and you have decided to move onto the next stage of your fitness journey: the bulk. So, you celebrate with fast-food, macro-nutrient dense protein shakes and protein bars — and the celebration never stops.

Eating too much too quick and trying to rush a bulk is probably the most common mistake people make when trying to gain muscle.

2. Forgetting your fruit and veg

Getting in the right macronutrient ratio (fats, carbs, and proteins) is usually the sole focus in bulking plans, but your fruit and veg are the basis of good health, and good health means a good bulk.

Don’t be scared because veggies aren’t packed with protein: they are packed with antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, which will make you feel better, keep your body functioning properly, and give you more energy, all of which will actually help during your bulk.

3. Not getting the calories right

Eat your veggies but make sure you're still hitting your calorie target.

You should be in a surplus of around 300 calories for a good lean bulk. You can calculate your daily calories to check your maintenance level based upon age, sex, weight, activity level here.

Use this to help:
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4. Not resting enough

Rest and recovery is one of the three pillars of muscle building but probably the most easily neglected. Rest comes in the time between sessions for a muscle group and the time you are sleeping each night.

Sleep contributes massively to muscle growth: allowing for protein synthesis, and the releasing growth hormone during REM cycles. The reality is muscles don’t grow in the gym, they grow in bed while you’re asleep. So, if you do nothing else, get your 8 hours.

5. Wanting results now

This is a mistake whether bulking or cutting and is good to realise sooner rather than later. Fitness results take time. In fact, they can take a whole lifetime. Just appreciate the day-to-day grind and don’t focus too much on the destination and you’ll enjoy the whole journey 10 times more.

6. Too little protein

We all know protein that builds muscle, being its foundational building blocks, so make sure to eat enough. You can get your protein from a variety of sources too, it doesn’t need to be from meat: beans, legumes and supplements all offer good sources of protein.

A normal protein recommendation is at least 2.2 grams per kg of your lean body weight. It’s too easy to not hit that target and it’s a common mistake we all make.

Try recipes like this creamy chicken pasta to boost your protein intake:
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7. Not knowing when to stop

A good bulk can be a year of work and over that time it might be hard to see the fat fill up over your body. If you keep your surplus small enough, you could be in a constant, forever-bulk but for most of us, we’re probably going to get to a point where our body fat levels get too high.

Bulking on a budget

Building muscle requires commitment, plenty of time in the gym and not to mention consuming the right nutrition and supplements. All this can have a huge impact on our outgoings, at the end of the day, if we don't have our health- we have nothing! Diets and nutrition plans can dent our bank balances, making bulking up on a budget difficult, although following these tips can hopefully make reaching your fitness goals stress free.

Know where to shop

We all have our chosen supermarket that we seem to pledge our loyalty to. But knowing the best places to shop can really shred the cost off our weekly shop. Yes, supermarkets have everything in one place but they also all have one other thing in common, high prices, especially on meat, the most vital protein source for bulking up.

Try giving your local butchers or the farmers market a look up. They are a great source of local produce and can give you great value for money. You could also try your hand at negotiating for a better deal.

Buy in bulk

This tip may seem expensive at first but buying in bulk can in fact help save you money in the long run. If you have enough space to store it all that is. As we already know quality protein sources like meat and fish are very high in price but stocking up and freezing these items can really help you save money further down the line. Not only will buying in bulk knock pounds of your weekly shop it also can help save on fuel charges as you’ll be making less trips to the shops.

Pre-prepare meals

It seems like everyone’s Instagram is jammed full of food prep pictures. Countless tupperware containers filled with pre-made food ready for the week. It’s clear that they have caught on to something. So how can this help you save money? Firstly you can portion out each meal which lets you measure the amount of nutrients you’re digesting every meal.

Pre-preparing meals not only saves money but also saves time. Spending a couple of hours one day a week preparing and cooking all your meals at once will save you time for other tasks during the week. Great if you’re working dawn to dusk and want to hit the gym.

We've got just the recipes:
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4. Buying the right food with the highest protein content

Being able to prepare the food and source is one thing, but actually knowing which items of food contain the best source of protein can go a long way to building muscle on a budget. Do your research, know where the highest protein and nutrients sources lie. You then won’t be wasting money on high calorie, low muscle food ingredients. Below is a guide to foods that contain a high amount of protein.

Food (per 100g) Protein Carbs Fat Calories
Almond Nuts 21.1g 6.9g 55.8g 614kcal
Anchovies 14.5g 0.1g 2.8g 85kcal
Asparagus 2.9g 2.0g 0.6g 25kcal
Avocado 1.9g 1.9g 19.5g 195kcal
Bacon 15.9g 0g 19.8g 245kcal
Baked beans 9.5g 22.1g 0.4g 130kcal
Bananas 1.2g 23.2g 0.3g 100kcal
Beef fillet steak 20.9g 0g 7.9g 155kcal
Bread (wholemeal) 11g 39.1g 2.2g 220kcal
Broccoli 4.2g 3.2g 0.2g 31kcal
Carrots 0.6g 7.9g 0.3g 37kcal
Cheese 30.9g 0.1g 15g 260kcal
Chicken breast (skinless) 23.5g 0g 1.7g 109kcal
Coconut 3.33g 15.2g 33.5g 354kcal
Cod 17.9g 0g 0.9g 80kcal
Cottage cheese 12.2g 4.5g 1.5g 80kcal
Couscous 15.1g 73.1g 1.1g 365kcal
Crab meat 18.1g trace 0.5g 80kcal
Eggs 12.5g trace 3.2g 151kcal
Goji berries 12.3g 57.7g 0.3g 285kcal
Haddock 16.4g 0g 1.2g 80kcal
Hummus 7.4g 9.8g 26.8g 310kcal
Lamb (steak) 19.9g 0.8g 3.2g 115kcal
Lobster 26.4g 3.1g 1.9g 143kcal
Milk (semi-skimmed) 3.6g 4.8g 1.8g 50kcal
Milk (whole) 3.3g 4.7g 3.6g 64kcal
Monkfish 24g 0g 1.7g 76kcal
Orange 1.1g 8.5g 0.1g 39kcal
Pasta 12.5g 73g 1.4g 355kcal
Peanut butter (crunchy) 24.9g 10.1g 50.2g 586kcal
Peas 5.9g 9.0g 0.9g 70kcal
Pizza (pepperoni) 11.4g 28g 11.1g 260kcal
Pork chops 19.3g 0g 20.3g 260kcal
Porridge oats 11g 60g 8g 356kcal
Potatoes 2.1g 17.2g 0.2g 80kcal
Prawns 17g 0.3g 0.9g 80kcal
Pumpkins seeds 28.8g 15.2g 45.6g 586kcal
Rice (brown) 6.9g 74g 2.8g 350kcal
Salmon fillets 21.6g 0g 14g 215kcal
Sardines 21.5g trace 9.6g 172kcal
Sausages (pork) 13.9g 11.9g 17g 255kcal
Soya beans 35.9g 14.8g 18.6g 375kcal
Spaghetti 5.1g 33g 1.3g 165kcal
Spinach 2.8g 1.5g 0.8g 24kcal
Sunflower seeds 23.4g 18.6g 47.5g 600kcal
Tofu 24g 0g 4g 105kcal
Tuna steak 25.6g 0g 0.5g 110kcal
Tuna (tinned) 26.3g 0g 10.7g 202kcal
Turkey breast 22.3g 0g 1.2g 100kcal
Venison 30.2g 0g 3.2g 158kcal
Yogurt 4.5g 6.6g 11g 145kcal

5. Supplements

Finally, if you are looking to go that little bit further in saving money when bulking up, supplements are a great way of getting the right nutrition for your fitness goals.

Zinc, omega-3 and whey protein all make a huge difference in saving money in order to bulk up on a diet.

Take home message

There’s more to bulking than eating what you want, when you want. To bulk properly and see the best results, you need to get the basics right first. Follow these steps, take it slow, and see where your bulking journey can take you — there’s more to gain than just muscle mass. If you like it simplified:

Train. Eat. Rest. Sleep. Repeat.

 

 

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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

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Alice Pearson
Writer and expert
View Alice Pearson's profile

Alice Pearson is a UKVRN Registered Associate Nutritionist and UK Anti‐Doping accredited advisor, having obtained a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and a Master’s of Science in Sport Nutrition. She has a specialist interest in the use of sports supplements for improving health, fitness, and sport performance.

Alice has experience working with both amateur and elite athletes, including providing nutritional support to Tranmere Rovers FC and Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club. Her nutritional guidance is always supported by evidence‐based research, which she keeps up to date through continuing professional development and independent learning.

In her spare time, Alice loves travelling, hitting the gym, and getting stuck into a good book.

Find out more about Alice's story here.

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