Building bigger muscles and gaining strength are the goals of many gym goers, visions of massive pectorals, huge biceps, and killer quads can inspire lifters to train harder than ever. But after training for a few months, the opportunity to build muscle while losing fat disappears (known as rookie gains).
Those gym goers realize that to build muscle they are going to have to bulk.
There are currently three ways that people bulk:
- They eat all the food that they can, while lifting all of the weights. They gain muscle, but also gain a lot of fat. The subsequent cutting phase lasts forever, and they vow never to bulk like that again.
- They spend weeks designing the perfect nutrition plan, and follow it religiously for months. At the end they have gained muscle, without adding too much fat. They are pleased with the results.
- Spend 6 weeks bouncing between the two, start going slow but get frustrated. Eat lots and start to gain weight. Get scared and drop calories again. Suddenly it’s 6 months later and they look the same as always.
As you can imagine, option two is the most desirable (though option one will work best for some people).
This method is difficult, and involves a lot of ground work but it is the only option that will work long term.
Option one works great if you need to gain a lot of mass quickly (and happen to be taking some “enhancements”). But it can mess with you psychologically, and will screw up your metabolism. It also creates an unhealthy relationship with food. Massive bulks and cuts are too similar to an eating disorder to ignore.
In this article we will show you how to properly plan out your nutrition and training program, how to maintain it, and what to do afterwards (once you’ve got the results).
Creating a Long Term Plan
One of the first things that you will have to accept is that no matter what you do, there will be a small amount of fat gain. That is the nature of bulking. You are increasing calories to create a surplus so that you can build muscle, but that calorie surplus will also lead to some fat accumulation.
It is not a big deal, and if you bulk correctly the amount of fat gained will be minimal. This means that you can then cut calories and lose the fat, while maintaining as much muscle as possible. Leading to great results.
Now that you understand that, you can look at planning what date you want to look your best for. Do you have a competition? Or a holiday? Wedding? Maybe you just wanted to look amazing this time next year. Whatever it is, you need to leave yourself around 12 weeks to cut down body fat (more time if you can manage it).
The remaining time that you have left, is required to bulk. Hopefully this is a substantial amount of time, because the more time you have the slower you can go (meaning less body fat accretion).
Once you have your time scale, and your bulking scale you can decide how much muscle you want to gain. Alan Aragon posits that a beginner can gain around 1-1.5% total body weight per month , so a 100kg dude with 80kg lean mass (20% body fat) could expect to pack on 0.8-1.2kg per month of muscle.
An intermediate lifter would see even smaller gains, but remember that this is in percentages. So the actual amount of muscle gained could be the same or greater. A 100kg dude with 90kg lean mass (10% body fat) could expect to gain 0.5-1% of muscle per month. Which would be 0.45-0.9kg. While an expert could see an even smaller gain.
So let’s say that you have 24 weeks to bulk (6 months) and you are a 100kg guy with 80kg of lean mass. You could realistically expect to gain 6kg of muscle in that time, bringing your lean mass up to 86kg. You would also add around 2-4kg in body fat, but would then have 12 weeks to reduce that body fat, and finish in your “lean” state.
The next job you need to do is to find out your current calorie intake (through a calorie counting app, eg: MyFitnessPal) and your current calorie expenditure (through fitbit or step counter). This will give you an idea of where you are currently at. Maybe you are losing weight, gaining weight, or maintaining. You can estimate these numbers if you wish, but being accurate is always better.
Once you have done that it’s time to take measurements of your current weight/body composition, and to work out your calorie target.
You can either use the Mifflin, M.D., St Jeor formula , or you can use a calorie calculator such as this one by precision nutrition . This will give you a calorie target that you should be looking to hit each day.
Now that you know your calorie target, you can get started. You need to count calories every day, you need to re-measure yourself every week, and you need to keep your step count up to prevent too much fat gain.
Training-wise you can follow either a strength training program (5×5) or a hypertrophy program. Train 3-5 times per week (whatever fits your personal circumstances and goals) and keep your rest periods between sets to 2-3 minutes.
Take progress photos of your physique and weigh yourself at the same time each week (Monday morning or Friday morning always work well). Pay attention to the changes you are seeing after a few weeks, and adjust calories if you think you are gaining too much/not gaining enough.
Don’t be overly fussy about this, and think carefully before changing the calories otherwise you may impede progress.
After the bulk is over you should have got some decent muscle gains, as well as a small fat build up. Now it is time to lower calories and lose that excess fat. We’re going to drop calories slowly on a weekly basis, but before doing that you need to recalculate your calories based on your new weight and goals.
Your exercise can drop slightly in intensity, as you won’t be working with the same amount of calories. Lower the weights, and reduce the rest periods between sets to burn more calories and create a bigger deficit.
Make sure that your protein levels are as high as ever to prevent muscle loss. Your rest and recovery after a workout will now be of paramount importance. This will keep cortisol low, testosterone high, and your muscles free from catabolism.
Hopefully this guide has helped you work out exactly how you are going to start a bulk, what to do to prevent too much fat gain, and how to successfully remove any fat afterwards. Remember, measure everything, sleep lots, exercise hard, and follow a calorie controlled diet.