Ready to get started with a bulking diet? Don’t start a bulking diet plan without reading this article first!
In this article:
- What Is a Bulking Diet?
- When to Bulk and Why?
- What Are the Types of Bulking Diet?
- Tips on How to Bulk
- How to Count Macros in a Bulking Diet?
- Bulking Foods to Add in One’s Diet
- Downsides of a Bulking Diet
- Simple Bulking Meal Recipes
Starting a Bulking Diet for Better Defined Muscles
What Is a Bulking Diet?
How does bulking help with one’s bodybuilding goals? The ultimate bulking diet is a nutritional strategy.
It focuses on increasing energy intake, or calories, to encourage weight gain.
One may assume that gaining weight means it will increase his/her body fat percentage. That is not always true when following a bulking diet.
One can increase muscle mass when bulking up. The increased muscle mass may result in a lower body fat percentage, even if one gains fat.
For example, if a person gains 10 pounds of weight but only 1 pound of fat, then the body fat percentage may decrease. In that situation, there’s a 9 to 1 ratio of muscle gain to fat gain.
Another important thing to look into is calories. Calories (kcal) is the unit of measurement for energy which makes all of bodily actions, including bodily processes, possible. When performing any kind of movements including physiological mechanisms such as breathing, a person burns some of these calories.
The goal of a bulking diet is to have an uptake in calories for a certain duration and convert this surplus of energy into muscle mass.
To further explain what caloric surplus is, let’s look at three scenarios concerning caloric intake.
- Caloric Maintenance – When one eats as many calories as he/she burns, weight can be maintained.
- Caloric Deficit – If one burns more calories than one eats, weight loss is the result.
- Caloric Surplus – If one eats more than one burns, weight gain happens.
Nonetheless, even with vigorous sessions in the gym, one cannot increase his muscle mass without supplying his body the nutritional requirements for growth — protein and other micronutrients.
When to Bulk and Why?
The primary reason for bulking is to gain size and mass. Here is a simple guideline one can follow to determine if one should bulk or cut depending on his current body composition.
- For men with 15% body fat or more and women with 25% body fat or more, cutting is the way to go.
- For men with 10% body fat or less and women with 20% body fat or less, bulking is ideal.
It is recommended to bulk at the mentioned body fat levels because of two important reasons:
1. Insulin Sensitivity Drops as Body Fats Increases
The hormone insulin transports nutrients into our cells. When the body develops a resistance to its signals, the rate at which we naturally burn fats is decreased, increasing the possibilities of gaining weight.
Also, insulin sensitivity hinders protein synthesis, a process important to muscle growth.
The higher the body’s insulin sensitivity is, the better it can build muscles and resist fat growth.
2. Testosterone Levels Drop and Estrogen Levels Increase When We Gain Weight
Testosterone is a major player in muscle growth. Estrogen, on the other hand, in high levels can promote the storage of fat in the body.
Being in a bulking diet while having too much body fat may result in having little muscle growth and too much additional fat.
What Are the Types of Bulking Diet?
1. Clean Bulking Diet
When clean bulking, the caloric surplus will only be by a few hundred calories beyond the caloric maintenance. Say a person’s total daily energy expenditure is 2500 calories, he/she will have to eat over 2500 calories daily over a period of time (usually around 3 months).
The main goals of a clean bulk are to gain as little fat as possible and form lean muscles.
The recommended surplus to maximize muscle growth is at about 10% over the caloric maintenance. This number is perfect for beginners and intermediate lifters.
It is ideal to start adding around 200 to 300 calories and observe the progression. If there is minimal to zero weight gain, add another 200 calories.
If on the other hand, weight gain is accelerated, decrease the calories by 200.
The usual weight gain with this kind of diet will average at around 1 to 2 lbs. per week. The good thing about clean bulking is the minimal fat gain.
Here are some tips to eat clean and gain weight:
- Focus on high-nutrient content foods
- Eat a balanced diet of vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources
- Opt for heart-healthy fats and avoid low-nutrient junk foods
- Restrict foods to low-fat and nutrient-dense options
- Limit added sugars in the diet
- Avoid high-sugar sports drinks and focus on nutrient dense smoothies or juices. Try making a shake out of milk, flax seeds, and a protein supplement to help with after-workout recovery.
- Avoid processed foods, fast foods from a restaurant and high-sugar soft-drinks
- Eat lean sources of protein and limit saturated fat intake
2. Dirty Bulking Diet
If with a clean bulking the surplus is just 500 calories or less, this number can skyrocket as much as 3000 to 5000 calories with a dirty bulking diet. It’s called a dirty bulking diet because one can eat anything he/she wants as long as the set caloric surplus is reached.
We’re talking about gobbling up everything from frozen foods, boxes of pizza, gallons of ice cream, and Big Macs just get the surplus.
The advantages of dirty bulking include:
- It’s easier to get lots of calories.
- It can be a cheaper option.
- It’s less mentally demanding.
The disadvantages, on the other hand, are:
- It’s easier to gain too much fat.
- It isn’t healthy.
- It is harder to maintain good macros.
The sample computation we did above falls under the category of clean bulking.
Tips on How to Bulk
To start bulking, one must start with goals. Does he/she plan to exercise more?
Does he/she want to lift heavier weights? Is he/she following the same exercise routines?
The calories in one’s diet will depend on his/her activity level.
Bulking is a meticulous process, hopefully, these tips can help:
1. Find Out the Current Caloric Intake
Keep track of every bite of food and the calories in meals eaten. Write down every detail of consumed meals, snacks, and beverages.
Follow through for one week and then add up the weekly intake. Divide the number by seven for the daily average caloric intake.
This gives a baseline for the diet plan.
2. Start Adding Calories
Start slow and add a few hundred calories to the diet each day. Add an afternoon snack.
Eat more at each meal. Measure out foods to have a clear idea of one’s caloric intake.
If eating an extra 500 calories is a challenge, then start with a single snack and work up to an extra 500 calories.
3. Follow an Exercise Plan
Planning to add heavier weights to one’s exercise routine? Then add the extra weight.
Do not stop an exercise routine when bulking up. There should be a balance of diet and exercise to gain muscle and fat.
When one stops exercising, he/she will gain more fat than muscle.
4. Eat Healthy Foods
Avoid the temptation to eat high-calorie and low-nutrient foods.
Add more calories with healthy whole-grains, vegetables, and lean protein sources.
RELATED: 9 Bulking Meals To Build Muscle
How to Count Macros in a Bulking Diet?
Doing a proper bulking diet is more than just hitting the caloric surplus. Macros distribution plays an important role in every diet’s effectivity.
The three macronutrients found in most food we eat are protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Each of these macros has equivalent energy values:
- Protein – 1 gram is 4 kcal
- Carbs – 1 gram is 4 kcal
- Fats – 1 gram is 9 kcal
In most countries, the food energy value is measure per 100 grams of a product. Say 100 g of X has 10 g of protein, 6 g of fats, and 25 g of carbs, its total calories then is 194 kcal.
10 (4) + 25 (4) + 6 (9) + = 40 + 100 + 54 = 194 kcal
When bulking, high consumption of protein and carbs will support muscle gain and recovery while giving the needed energy to perform well in each workout.
When bulking, it is ideal to consume 0.8 g to 1.5 g of protein per pound of body weight.
Say an individual weighs 250 lbs and we set our protein intake to 1.3 g per pound of body weight, he/she will need to consume 325 g of protein per day.
We don’t need to fear fats, in fact, in healthy levels, they can contribute to a healthy system.
To stimulate anabolic hormone release and leave ample rooms for carbs, it is ideal to allocate 25% of the total calories to fats.
Anabolic hormone definition: These are hormones such as testosterone that promote the growth of muscles.
To make sure when can perform well during a workout, the rest of the calories will be allocated for carbs. This will also promote better recovery.
As one might notice, carbs would take up the majority of the calories in this diet. With enough physical activity, carbs at this level can support healthy testosterone to cortisol ratio that helps with having better hormonal activities in the body.
Eating carbs at this amount can also help with keeping one full.
Consider this sample computation:
- Calculate TDEE. Say a 22 yr old man weighing 170 lbs at a height of 5’9″ with light physical activity. His caloric maintenance is 2422 kcal/day.
- Set the surplus rate and compute for the daily caloric surplus. Say his going with a 15% surplus.
2422 x 1.15 = 2785 kcal
2785 – 2422 = 363 kcal
Our surplus is 363 kcal/day.
- For the macros, start by computing for protein. Say he wants to set 1.2 g of protein per pound of body weight.
170 lbs x 1.2 g = 204 g of protein/day
- To compute for our fat intake, get the total daily calories with the surplus and multiply it by .25.
2785 kcal x .25 = 696 kcal
- Then to compute for the remaining calories allocated for carbs, add the total calories from our fats and protein intake and subtract it from the daily calories with the surplus.
Protein – 204 x 4 = 816 kcal
Fats – 696 kcal
Carbs – (816 + 696) – 2785 = 1273 kcal
- To get how many grams of each macro we should eat for a day, we have to divide the numbers by each macros’ energy values.
Protein – 816/4 = 204 g
Fats – 696/9 = 77 g
Carbs – 1273/4 = 318 g
Bulking Foods to Add in One’s Diet
The food one eats play a key role in a bulking diet. By selecting the right bulking foods, one can maintain a healthy balance of nutrients.
Add protein to the diet, but keep in mind that 15 pounds of protein will result in one pound of muscle gain.
One does not need to overeat protein. Eat two extra eggs or an extra serving of fish to the diet.
Increase heart-healthy fats in the diet. Eat an avocado or drizzle olive oil over a salad.
Eat a spoon of nut butter or eat a serving of nuts. The healthy fats give the body energy without causing an insulin response.
It also keeps the heart healthy and helps one maintain his/her fitness goals.
Eat carbohydrate foods at the right time. Enjoy high-carbohydrate foods before and after an exercise routine.
Focus on high fat and high protein foods at other times.
Do not forget healthy vegetables. A diet with plenty of vegetables plays a key role in one’s health.
Vegetables have vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support good health. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, increase testosterone levels.
Want to add fruit to the diet? Focus on pomegranate to increase a man’s testosterone levels. Berries are a good choice because they are low in sugar and high in antioxidants.
Examples of foods that should be included in a bulking diet:
- Chicken breast
- Chicken liver
- Greek yogurt
- Lowfat cheese
- Whole wheat bread
- Veggies and fruits
- Peanut butter
- Different kinds of healthy oils
Downsides of a Bulking Diet
A bulking diet does have risks and downsides to consider. A common downside of bulking is the risk of gaining fat.
Increasing caloric intake means gaining weight. Part of the weight is fat.
That means a person does not always maintain the definition of the muscles. Bulking is one side of the diet plan.
When a person reaches his/her weight gain goals, they start cutting to reveal defined muscles.
The second risk of bulking is selecting the wrong foods. It seems easy to add calories by adding an unhealthy dessert or a bag of chips to one’s diet.
The problem is that high-calorie junk foods do not add nutritional value. They add calories without the nutrients needed to build muscles or support recovery after a workout.
Focus on nutrient dense food choices.
Simple Bulking Meal Recipes
The final challenge to consider when bulking is the meal plan. What bulking meal recipes help with achieving one’s goals?
It depends on the preferences for foods. By having a few ideas in mind, one can develop a meal plan that works with his/her diet plan.
1. Baked Chicken Breast Recipe
Baked chicken breast with sauteed vegetables is a simple meal for bulking. Follow the steps below:
- Turn on the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees.
- Rinse and prepare the chicken breast. Sprinkle an even layer of salt and pepper, or any preferred spices, on both sides of the chicken.
- Add one tablespoon of coconut oil to an oven-safe pan and heat the oil.
- Add the chicken breast and cook for two minutes. Flip the chicken breast and cook for two more minutes.
- Place the entire pan into the oven and cook for eight minutes. Check the chicken. The internal temperature should reach 165 degrees.
- Serve with sauteed vegetables or fresh vegetables
2. Pan-Seared Fish with Fresh Salad
Pan-seared fish with a fresh salad is a simple and nutrient-dense meal. Just follow the steps below to enjoy this delicious, high protein meal.
- Prepare the fish. Rinse the fish and then sprinkle salt and pepper over the fish. One can also use lemon pepper or squeeze lemon juice onto the fish.
- Place a pan on the stove and line the bottom with foil. Turn the stove on high and allow the pan and foil to heat.
- Measure two to three tablespoons of oil and pour it onto the foil. When the oil heats, place the fish on the pan. Put the fish on an area with oil to prevent sticking.
- Cover the fish with more foil and allow it to cook for two to three minutes. Remove the foil and flip the fish. Cover the fish and cook for two to three more minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let the fish settle for a few minutes. Serve with a fresh salad drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or with fresh brown rice.
3. Egg Recipe
Eggs are a good source of protein and a great choice for breakfast. Each egg has 7 grams of protein and only 70 to 90 calories. To fully enjoy eggs for breakfast, follow the steps below.
- Warm the eggs to room temperature and then crack the eggs into a bowl. Beat the eggs until the whites are completely mixed with the yolk.
- Add salt and pepper to taste and mix it into the eggs. Pour a small amount of milk and beat it into the eggs.
- Heat the pan on high and add some butter or coconut oil to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil heats, add the eggs.
- Scramble them or let it cook and flip it for an omelet. If making an omelet, then fill the middle with vegetables or preferred meat and cook for one minute to cook the vegetables.
Watch Brandon Harding show one day of his bulking diet below.
A bulking diet is part of bodybuilding. For those who want large and well-defined muscles, it all starts with the right meals.
Plan out those meals to add calories to your diet the right way. As long as the tips above are followed, you’ll be bulking up your body in no time.
Do you have any bulking diet tips you might want to share? Let us know in the comments section below!
- How To Bulk Up: 13 Rules Of Clean Bulking
- 3 Reasons Why You’re Losing Muscle Mass Instead Of Gaining
- Build Your Back Muscles With These 7 Back Exercises With Dumbbells
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 26, 2018, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.