Some bodybuilders view bulking as a free pass to eat as much junk food as they require. As long as the scale in the bathroom and lifts in the gym are going up they consider it successful. But is it really worth gaining 10 lbs of fat to gain 1 lb of muscle? “Dirty” bulking will only make it harder to get shredded when you are finished. The truth is it’s not necessary to gorge yourself every 2 hours to build muscle. Even if fat gain is of little concern, you will be missing out on potential muscle growth by doing this.
If The Goal Is To Gain As Much Muscle As Possible, Why Not Eat As Much As Possible?
In the old days, almost all bodybuilders would put on 50+ pounds of weight during the offseason. Some of them seriously looked like different people with their bloated guts and puffy chipmunk cheeks. In addition to the traditional “clean” foods like sweet potatoes and chicken, the occasional burger and fries or entire pizza was not uncommon. More was simply seen as better in terms of gaining mass with many pro bodybuilders consuming over 8,000 kcals a day in the offseason.
Now we know this is not an optimal approach for a couple of reasons. The first is pretty obvious … eating excessively will make you fat. This is bad not only because you won’t look your best (or fit into any of your existing wardrobe other than sweats), but also because it will make it more difficult when you decide to cut down. Excessive calories and carbs result in not only filling all of your current fat cells but in the creation of new ones through the process of adipogenesis. These fat cells usually form in the areas where you naturally tend to store more of your body fat, typically in the gut and low back for men. This makes these problem areas even more stubborn once you begin dieting. As the body fat levels climb, anabolic resistance occurs making your body more likely to store body fat while inhibiting protein synthesis meaning all those excess calories are enlarging your waistline and not your muscles.
Another problem with “dirty” bulking is the increased levels of insulin circulating in the blood. Over indulging in carbs causes an increase in blood sugar causing your body to respond by releasing the hormone insulin. Insulin is a great thing for muscle growth in small doses, but when chronically elevated, your muscle cells can become desensitized. Once this happens, it’s far easier for the body to store nutrients as body fat rather than try to force them into desensitized muscle cells. At a certain point, you begin to get diminishing returns when it comes to consuming a caloric surplus, so it’s important to find the sweet spot that allows you to pack on the most muscle possible while limiting the amount of body fat gained.
How Much Should I Be Eating
We have established that the eat anything, and everything approach is not optimal, so how many calories should you be consuming? The first step in finding this is to figure out your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This is the amount of calories needed to support your basic metabolic needs as well as daily activities and exercise. Here’s how to estimate:
Once you have established your TDEE, simply add an additional 10% of calories on top of that. For example; let’s say you are a 190-pound intermediate level bodybuilder who works out 4 times a week.
190 x 17 = 3,230 = TDEE
3,230 x 1.1 = 3553
This individual would do best to start around 3,553 calories for a bulking phase. If you are gaining a pound a week or more, you can be sure there’s some unwanted fat gain so cut back on calories. Now that we know the number of calories to consume, next let’s determine how to split them up among fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
Protein is the most important macronutrient when it comes to adding muscle mass. Without it, our bodies would not be able to build and repair muscle tissue through the process of protein synthesis. During a bulking phase, slightly less protein is needed than during a cut since you are in a calorie surplus and positive nitrogen balance. Aim for 1-1.4 g/lb of body weight from high-quality sources such as wild caught fish, grass-fed beef, eggs, whey protein, etc.
If you are starting your bulk after finishing a cutting phase, then you probably haven’t been able to enjoy any significant amount of carbs for some time. Well now that’s all changed, and carbs will make up the largest part of your diet since. Carbs will provide you with the fuel needed to blast through those intense sessions in the gym. During the offseason, the intensity needs to be upped which will be impossible without adequate glucose and glycogen from eating carbohydrates. Aim for 2-3 times your body weight based on preference and how well you tolerate carbs. These should come mainly from complex sources (except post workout) such as sweet potatoes, rice, and oats.
Healthy fats are essential to having healthy hormones and are a component of every cell in your body. During a bulk, carbohydrates are high so fats will have to be lower to avoid gaining excess body fat. Whatever calories you have left after calculating your carb and protein requirements will go to fats, but make sure it is at least a minimum of .3 g/lb of body weight. Fats will come primarily through your animal protein as well as avocados, coconut/olive oil, and raw nuts.
Putting It Together
Sticking with our 190-pound intermediate bodybuilder, let’s calculate total macronutrient needs.
Protein. 190 x 1.2 = 228g
Carbs. 190 x 2.5 = 475g
Fats. 228 x 4 + 475 x 4 = 2812
3553 kcal-2812 kcal = 741 kcal 741/9 = 82g of fat
Our example of the 190-pound intermediate bodybuilder could be consuming a diet consisting of 228g of protein, 475g of carbs, and 82g of fat.
Some Final Notes To Keep In Mind