What Is Bulking?

‘Bulking’ is a term used in bodybuilding referring to the increase in mass (both muscle and some fat) due to calorie excess combined with weight training.

Some may think that the process of bulking is relatively simple. Eat as much as you like, lift heavy weights and the muscle will grow like magic. However, many people make the mistake of eating any type of food, such as takeaways, pizzas and chocolate, combined with alcoholic drinks and snacks. The result is that the muscle develops inefficiently. The body may be receiving an excess of calories but these are from poor quality sources and the macronutrient split may favour fat gain over lean body mass.

Therefore, the key to bulking ‘cleanly’ is to choose your macronutrients wisely. Consume a calorie excess, while on the whole, choosing healthy foods as described below. Not only will the workout and recovery periods be sufficiently fuelled but muscle gains will be greater, fat gains less and the subsequent period of cutting less arduous.


man lifting barbell

What food should I eat when bulking?

Bulking is not an excuse to consume vast quantities of junk food that is high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, nor should it include regular heavy nights out with copious amounts of alcohol followed by a greasy takeaway on the way home. While everyone is human and will engage in indulgences and while you can ‘get away with it’ more when you are bulking, too much will simply hinder progress and lead to fat deposition rather than the gain of lean tissue. 

The majority of your diet should be composed of: 

  • Low GI carbohydrates such as brown or basmati rice, granary bread, wholemeal pasta, quinoa, sweet potato and other starchy vegetables
  • Good quality, lean protein sources such as skinless chicken or turkey, lean fillets of beef, lamb or pork, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards), white fish, eggs, pulses, and soya / tofu / quorn. It is best to oven bake, grill, roast or stir fry, rather than shallow or deep fry
  • Healthy fats from nuts, seeds, flax, oily fish, avocado and olives, plus poly- or monounsaturated oils. These will ensure a good supply of poly and monounsaturated oils. Restrict foods containing a lot of saturated fat
  • Lots of fruit and vegetables. These are typically low in calories but packed full of vitamins and minerals plus other phytonutrients essential for the maintenance of a healthy metabolism, immune system, skin, nervous system… the list goes on
  • Low fat dairy products such as yoghurt, skimmed milk, lower fat cheeses (such as Edam or Brie), cottage cheese and quark

Carbohydrates

It can be seen from the above, that no macronutrients should be cut out of a bulking diet. Carbs provide the energy required to train and subsequently recover from a workout. Carbohydrate foods also provide a valuable source of calories, ensuring a positive energy balance. They also contain vitamins and minerals. Amounts of carbohydrate required will vary from person to person. As a rough guide, start by ingesting around 2g per pound of bodyweight a day. If training and mass gains are low and energy levels are dropping, try increasing the number of carbs consumed. Similarly, if the gain in fat mass is becoming excessive, then reduce the number of carbs consumed.

Protein

Without protein, muscle mass gains will be low. Protein requirements will again be person specific. It is important to listen to your body and adjust your intake according to your results. As a guide, start by taking in 1.5-2g per pound of body weight and adjust accordingly.

Fat

Fat does not make you fat per se. It contains more calories per gram than carbohydrate or protein but, without being consumed in excess, is unlikely to result in fat gain.

Essential fatty acids, such as omega 3s and 6s, are required for many biological purposes, such as hormone function. Do not exclude fats from the diet, as indicated above. However, focus on the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats over saturated and trans fats.

How often should I eat when bulking?

It is important to be in a positive energy balance at all times when trying to add significant mass. By eating nutritious meals and snacks every 2-3 hours, you will ensure a steady stream of nutrients. Take special care to eat a meal of complex carbs and lean protein 2 hours prior to weight training and a maximum of an hour after your workout.

If you are finding your appetite is poor, try eating calorie dense foods such as nuts, nut butters, full-fat cheese, milk and weight gainer shakes to get the calories in, in a less bulky way. However, as you progress with bulking and training heavily, you should find your appetite increases.

Training regime

Regular heavy weight training is mandatory to pack on major mass. However, many people avoid all forms of cardio, thinking that it will hinder their muscle gain. However, the health benefits of regular cardiovascular training are undeniable and it will increase the efficiency with which the body burns fat. This will ultimately be of benefit when the time comes for cutting.

Post workout

There is a debate that rages regarding post workout nutrition. While the requirement for fast-acting protein is undeniable, the form and timing of carbohydrate ingestion are questionable. Most people will consume whey protein immediately after training. The choice with carbohydrate is whether to make use of the insulin ‘spike’ from fast acting carbs in the post-workout (PWO) shake (e.g. as dextrose), or whether to opt for slower acting carbs in the post workout (PPWO) meal.

In practice, either protocol will bring about results. However, eating real food, in the form of slow to medium acting carbohydrate with the PPWO meal is cheaper than using carb supplements and will also contribute valuable micronutrients and fibre.

Supplementation

Most people when bulking will make use of whey protein or similar, on waking and post workout. While not essential, this is an easy and quick way to meet protein requirements at these demanding times. Other supplements such as weight gain shake; creatine ethyl ester and glutamine are of benefit but are by no means essential if the diet is adequately planned.

There is also an enormous range of wonder supplements advertised in training magazines, guaranteeing an enviable physique in a short timeframe. While many may choose to buy into these, there is no comparison to a good diet containing a wide variety of foods, consumed with the right frequency and in the right portions. Consider supplements to be the fine-tuning of the bulking plan rather than the foundation.

What Is Bulking? What Is Bulking? Reviewed by Performance Meals on May 09, 2019 Rating: 5

No comments