i$e's Bulking Guide v1.0
How to gain lean mass effectively whilst limiting fat gain
I've had quite a few PMs, reps and comments in here requesting that I make a companion post for my cutting guide, which seems to have been received very well. I had one guy tell me that his depression was less of an issue now, which is absolutely fantastic. So, here we are. Gaining lean mass without tons of fat gain.
Like cutting, it's quite a simple process. The difficulty comes in being diciplined over a long period of time. It's something you have to initially dedicate a lot of time to consciously, then less so as you progress. So, fight the urge to alter things too quickly, which will fuck up your progress more often than not. Let's get into it.
What is bulking?
Who should bulk?
Bulk: to gain weight by predominantly gaining muscle
Sometime in ones lifting career, one will always ask themselves the classic bodybuilding question: should I bulk or cut?
Whilst this is a personal decision 100% of the time, there are a few guidelines that I would suggest if you're open to both options.
You should probably
- You're just starting out and you're <20% BF
- You've been cutting for a while and your strength is starting to decrease
- You're 'skinny fat' - pretty light overall weight but low LBM (lean body mass) and high-ish BF%.
You should definitely
- You absolutely
want more muscle (dur)
- Your focus is on making significant strength gains
- You're skinny and weak, even if you have 'abz for dayz' (low bodyfat, low lean mass, low overall weight for height)
Why should I bulk?
Because you want to be bigger and stronger than you currently are. For some people it'll be for aesthetic reasons, for others it'll be for their own self-esteem etc. Everyone is different.
My own story is that I was 155lb skinny fat. I hated my image and decided on a complete lifestyle change, with diet and training becoming a major factor in my life. For the first year, I focused on cutting body fat, rather than taking my own advice above and bulk. I lost 25lb+ of fat, but gained around 10lb of muscle (thus recomping) and made good strength gains - which is possible due to the so called 'newbie gains' (the reason that I reccomend bulking to newcomers even with moderate BF%; you'll gain muscle and strength and lose fat at the same time for the first 6-14mo).
Do I regret not bulking straight away? No, because this is a marathon and not a sprint. I may have had bigger strength gains if I hadn't cut for 12 months, but at the same time, I was walking around with a BF% that I was finally happy with. Then, I started bulking, and haven't stopped since.
Moral of this little tale; bulk until you're unhappy, cut until you're unhappy, repeat. Eventually you'll be happy all the time. When? When you reach your goals.
Once you've decided to bulk, climb the mountain to retreive a purple flower, then read on.
All you need to know.
- Lift heavy 3/4 times a week
- Eat at a caloric surplus
- Take in at least 1g protein per lb of lean mass daily
- Include some essential fatty acids (omega 3/6/9) and vegetables daily
Do that and you'll get results, 100% of the time. Counting calories is essential to locking down your numbers, but after a while they become second nature and you won't even have to use a calculator. At this point you may have noticed I've barely altered the essentials from the cutting guide, and that's because bulking is pretty much inverse from cutting. All we're doing is switching from a caloric deficit to a caloric surplus.
How many calories should I eat?
So, gaining LBM requires us to be in caloric surplus. Unlike cutting, our weekly goals are different. Whilst it's possible to lose 2lb+ of fat a week, you're going to be adding muscle much slower than that. In general terms, we can only gain 0.5lb of muscle per week, and that's with optimal training and diet planning. For the newcomer, you can probably add more than that for the first year of training (another reason I think newcomers should mostly be bulking straight off). So..
- If you're a newcomer and have decided to bulk, aim to gain 4-6lb a month (or 0.75-1.25 lb per week)
- If you're an intermediate+ lifter, aim to gain 2-3lb a month (0.5-0.75 lb per week)
These numbers might seem lower than you were expecting or commonly heard. But this so called 'lean bulking' will minimise fat gains (which are inevitable most of the time).
The caloric surplus is best attained via diet (through management of caloric intake). Eat 200-500 calories more than your TEE (Total Energy Expenditure; maintenance calories) whilst following the rules outlined in the essentials above and you're on track.
A bit of background of our maintenance level (TEE) - when we weight train (or do any physical activity for that matter), we expand a bunch of calories, which is in our interest obviously. The problem with this as a conscious consideration is newcomers often use it as justification to eat more. Oh, I can have this cake because I did 30 minutes on the treadmill earlier.
Whilst this makes some logical sense, it is usually counter-productive because in general people both overestimate how much calories they burn in the gym and underestimate how many calories they're eating. Just workout your TEE below and stick to it, focusing on creating your deficit in the kitchen.
= bodyweight in pounds x 15
(or 14 if you're female). That's a rough
estimate, which will take a few weeks of trial and error to really nail down. It might take longer, but luckily the scale will tell you where you're at. So..
If you weigh 160lb.
160 x 15 = 2400. That will maintain weight. Eating 2700-2900 a day (200-500 kcal surplus) will yield between 0.25-0.75 of muscle gain a week provided the essential rules are met. The weight you gain will be a mixture of dry muscle, water, increased glycogen stores and fat, but provided you don't go overboard with the surplus, it'll be almost all lean body mass.
Obviously, this is key to knowing what we're doing is working, so here are my recommendations.
- Weigh yourself once a week on the same day at the same time. Before breakfast, after bathroom.
- Write it down.
- If weight does not go up after three weeks and you've not made any obvious slip ups, increase calories by 10%.
- The mirror is usually a better judge for you to go by, although scales help with 'knowing' you're achieving something.
- Write it down. Included again because it's important to log progress. The same goes for your workouts.
- Using calipers will give you a good indication of fat gain (and you can alter diet from here).
It's worth noting that sometimes you'll fluctuate in weight from day to day. This is water weight amongst other factors, and is the reason we weigh ourselves at the same time on a weekly basis and don't panic if we don't gain from one week to the other. As long as there is a general upward trend over the long term, you're golden.
Myths and other things that don't matter
Given the amount of studies, blogs, forum posts (I realize the irony) and articles that you can read on the subject, it's no wonder that a significant amount of broscience has popped up over the years. Bullshit, in other words. The following things are not essential to gaining lean mass
- Meal timing, aside from eating pre and post workouts
- Meal frequency
- Protein 'maxes' per meal
- Significant analysis of carb/fat ratios, sodium intake, 'clean' foods etc
Obviously, all of these things can be tweaked and considered as part of an overall strategy, but they're are absolutely not required for LBM increase.
A note on Intermittent Fasting
In this thread you may have noticed a lot of people who have started talking about IF recently. I follow this protocol and have done for the past 4 months. Basically, rather than eating in a regular 12-14 hour eating window, you get your calories in a 6-8 hour window instead. It's just a timing protocol. You can just do things normally if you wish, but should you want to read more on the subject, then have a read over at leangains.com.
This is not essential for bulking, it's just another way of acheiving the same goals.
Frequently Asked Questions
: Will I get fat?
: Not if you take it slowly and monitor progress. Your overall fat levels will increase, but so will your LBM, so you won't necassarily look any 'fatter' as your BF% may stay the same or even lower.
: When should I stop bulking?
: When you're happy with your weight, or when you've reached a BF% you're not happy with. Then you can cut or maintain.
: Can I eat what I want?
: I'm a big believer in 'IIFYM' (If It Fits Your Macros). Get most of your foods from good sources, and then fill in the gaps with things you enjoy. As long as you hit your calories, protein numbers, eat some healthy fats and veggies, there's no reason you can't have a snickers after a meal (I have a snickers every day and I'm gaining LMB steadily).
: What weight lifting routine should I do whilst bulking?
: I reccomend Starting Stength if you're just beginning. Rush made a great post on the subject that I'm sure he'll dig out if asked.
: Do I have to use weights?
: To be honest, yes.
: How much is a safe amount to gain per week?
: No more than 1lb a week. Any more than that will just store as fat, so what's the point?
: What are some good food choices?
: For protein, lean meats, fish, eggs, milk and whey supplements are great. Good carb sources include oats, pasta, rice and wholemeal bread. Good fats can be attained from salmon, mackerel, almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts and getting some saturated fats in from butter etc is no bad thing at all (despite what you may have heard).
..and that's it. Hope this information helps as much as it has helped me over the years.