If you’ve been working out, or even if you’re interested in working out … you’ve probably heard of the term “bulking” before. Usually, this is a term you’ll hear guys use when they’re talking about wanting to gain weight.
After all, that’s what “bulking” is … a plan to gain weight. When I was growing up, I really wanted to gain muscle. Let’s just say, I was one of the small, frail, shrimpy kids in my class. That’s when I first heard of the term "bulking" in relation to fitness.
Now, a lot has changed for me since then. But, I do still focus on building muscle or bulking from time to time. Whereas I used to think that bulking was all about lifting heavy weights and eating a ton of junk food … that isn’t really the case.
The truth is, bulking is about eating in a calorie surplus, getting enough protein throughout the day, and progressive overload.
Let me teach you all about bulking, and exactly how to do it if it’s something you’re interested in yourself!
What Is Bulking?
When you hear the term bulking, you may think of Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “I’ll be back” in his Austrian accent. At least, I do.
But again, bulking is just another way to describe a plan to gain weight, and it has everything to do with how much food you eat and how you train.
Now, when most people talk about bulking, they are usually talking about gaining muscle in any way possible. Or, in other words, eating a lot of unhealthy, calorie-dense foods.
I personally think of this as a cop-out that some people use to be relaxed with their diet. The truth is, you can still build muscle and stay relatively lean throughout the bulking process, with the right nutrition plan. A lot of people prefer this method just as much as I do!
This is the difference between “dirty” bulking and “clean” or “lean” bulking. Let’s quickly touch on each method, then get into exactly what you need to do to bulk, no matter which approach you take.
Dirty bulking is an approach to muscle building that can involve eating “less healthy” foods to meet your protein and calorie goals. I know this can be hard to picture, so let me give you an example.
Let’s say you’re trying to eat 3,000 calories a day to gain muscle and weight. Well, it can be very difficult to eat that amount of food with healthier, calorie-dense foods. However, even just one large pizza can get you well over 1,000 calories with all the fats and carbohydrates.
You’d still want to make sure you get enough protein to gain muscle … but you can’t argue that eating a pizza won’t help you reach your calorie goal. The issue is, foods like pizza fall short on the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs to function at its best.
“Dirty” bulking is far more about ease and quantity as opposed to quality when it comes to the food you're eating. Always remember, you can be "in shape" on the outside, and still be unhealthy if your nutrition plan is out of whack ... which is not what we want.
Clean or Lean Bulking
“Clean” or “lean” bulking is another approach to building muscle that is a little more difficult. At the same time, it can be well worth it. Instead of eating unhealthy foods, this method focuses on eating good, nutrient-dense foods to gain weight.
This can make hitting your calorie goal much more difficult. But, I believe it's worth it because it's a method that can help you stay leaner and healthier through the process of gaining weight.
Now, don’t get me wrong … weight gain will come with some body fat gain no matter which method you utilize to bulk. Body fat is a necessary evil for gaining weight and muscle.
However, when you’re eating far more nutrient-dense foods, you can stay healthier throughout the process. This is solely because your body is getting more of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it needs from diverse whole-food sources.
How Do You Bulk?
So … how exactly do you bulk? Well, the answer is fairly simple, but implementation is more difficult. You have to cover 3 main bases:
1. You need to eat in a calorie surplus (eat more calories than you burn throughout the day).
2. You have to eat a sufficient amount of protein. Your muscle tissue needs protein in order to build new muscle tissue.
3. You need to overload your muscles (train your muscles to adapt to a new stimulus through progressive overload).
If you can cover all three of these bases, and you do it for long enough … you will gain muscle tissue. So, let’s dive into each of these and form a strategy to help you with bulking.
How Many Calories Do You Need For Bulking
First things first, you need to find out how many calories your body is going to need to gain weight and muscle.
Now let me preface this by saying the science on this isn’t exactly settled. There are a lot of factors that go into how many extra calories your body will need to build muscle.
With that being said, I’ll give you a general starting point. Because all of us are in different situations with different genetics ... you'll likely have to adjust the numbers over time.
To find your starting calories for bulking, start by taking your current body weight and multiplying it by 20-22. Whether you choose 20, 21, or 22 depends on how active you are. A simple way to figure out your general activity level is by how many steps you take every day:
• Multiply by 20: if you get between 0-10,000 steps per day (it better not be 0)
• Multiply by 21: if you get 10,000-19,999 steps per day
• Multiply by 22: if you get 20,000+ steps per day
If you get over 25,000-30,000 steps you may need more calories. Although, that’s not an easy number to hit on a daily basis.
Now this calculation is assuming you’re working out regularly too. So don’t start by jumping to the higher calculation just because you feel like a 1-2 hour workout makes you very active. Your activity level the rest of the day is what we’re looking at!
So if you workout daily and get less than 10,000 steps, you won’t go straight to 21 or 22. Still multiply by 20 to start out. Adding in too many calories might ensure you build the muscle, but you risk adding unnecessary amounts of body fat.
How to Make Sure You Get Enough Protein For Bulking
After you’ve calculated the total amount of calories you need to bulk, move on to how much protein you’ll need. This is actually a lot easier to determine than you’d think!
In order to build muscle, it’s recommended that you get around .8-1.2g of protein per pound of your desired body weight (1). So, a great place to start is by taking your goal weight and shooting for that many grams of protein per day.
How Many Carbs and Fats Do You Need For Bulking?
If your calories and protein are in a good spot, that’s what is going to be most important for bulking up. However, that’s not to say that your carb and fat intake aren’t important as well.
Since protein is 4 calories per gram, this can help you determine your carb and fat intake! Just multiply your goal weight by 4, then subtract it from the total number of calories you need every day.
Daily Calorie Goal - (Goal Weight x 4) = Calories Needed in Fat & Carbohydrates
From here, you can divide the remaining calories between carbs and fats however you’d like. Each gram of carbohydrates is 4 calories, and each gram of fat is 9 calories.
Both carbs and fats are sources of energy your body can utilize.
What Are the Best Foods For Bulking?
The best foods to eat for building muscle tissue are going to be nutrient-dense foods (2). That’s why I recommend to go the whole food route as often as you can.
From a health perspective, avoiding processed foods can be beneficial in many ways. I know we all have our different vices when it comes to food … but things like cake, cookies, and other sweets are best in moderation.
Simple foods are always the best thing to fuel your body. If you’re reaching for protein and produce every time, it’s hard to go wrong.
How to Train For Bulking
Training plays a big role in bulking and weight gain. If your goal is to bulk up and gain some muscle, you need to resistance train.
For most people, I would recommend getting in 3-5 sessions of weight resistance training in a week. I also recommend that you work out each muscle group at least two times (3). This is just a general recommendation and it is not ideal for everyone.
There are a bunch of different ways you can split up your workout routine, and it will also depend on how many days a week you plan on training. I’ll cover a few different approaches you can take to hit each muscle group multiple times a week…
If you’re going to work out 3 days a week:
• Full Body / Rest / Full Body / Rest / Full Body / Rest / Rest
• Upper Body / Rest / Lower Body / Rest / Full Body / Rest / Rest
If you’re going to work out 4 days a week:
• Upper Body / Lower Body / Rest / Upper Body / Lower Body / Rest / Rest
• Push / Pull / Legs / Rest / Full Body / Rest / Rest
If you’re going to work out 5 days a week:
• Upper Body / Lower Body / Rest / Push / Pull / Legs / Rest
This isn’t to say you have to structure it this way, but these are some great starting points if you’re really planning to bulk up and see great results.
What’s most important is that you’re able to achieve progressive overload. This is a method used in resistance training to increase the neuromuscular demand over time.
If you’re looking to add cardiovascular exercise on top of this, you absolutely can.
I always recommend doing cardiovascular training to stay healthy and in great shape. Just make sure you don’t overdo it and burn too many calories. This can create a situation where you can’t gain weight because you aren’t in a caloric surplus.
I personally recommend low-intensity walking for somebody who is looking to bulk. This is a great way to improve cardiovascular fitness without burning too many calories.
The Top 3 Supplements That Can Help You With Bulking
If you’re doing everything you need to be doing to bulk through your training and nutrition … supplements can be a great way to fill in gaps and take your results up a notch.
At the end of the day, supplements are exactly what they sound like. They are tools you can use to supplement the nutrients you’re missing out on in your daily nutrition.
With that being said, there are some supplements that can be a game changer when it comes to bulking. I’ll talk about the top three that I recommend…
1. Post-Workout Recovery Supplements
“Rest” is a part of every muscle-building program for good reason. Recovery is key and there are ways that you can maximize your recovery. Two things happen when you work out:
1. You deplete your muscle glycogen (energy)
2. You create micro-trauma tears in your muscle fibers (break down your muscle tissue)
This provides a chance to take advantage of a time when your body wants nutrients quickly. Two things can be used to help here:
1. A high-glycemic carbohydrate, like Ignition, can give your body back the energy that was burned off
2. A rapid-assimilation protein, like Phormula-1, can help to provide your body with the protein it needs to begin rebuilding muscle
2. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine is one of the most, if not the most, researched supplements there is. Time and time again, creatine has been proven in its effectiveness in increasing strength, power, and muscle mass.
Believe it or not, your body already produces a majority of the creatine it already needs. On top of that, creatine can be found naturally in foods such as beef and fish.
However, supplementing with 5g of creatine a day has also been shown to be very useful for bulking. You can even take it when you’re trying to lose body fat too. Creatine is just helping your body replenish its explosive energy stores (ATP) and keeping your muscle cells healthy and hydrated by drawing water and nutrients into the cell.
It’s safe, cheap, and very effective! We even offer a pure micronized creatine monohydrate powder that you can mix directly with your post-workout shake!
3. Multivitamins and Superfood Greens Powders
Another base you always want to make sure you cover is your micronutrients. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at its best. These vitamins and minerals are involved in carrying out thousands of bodily functions and processes.
This can also include the process of partitioning your nutrients. This is basically how your body uses the foods you eat. Consider a high-quality multivitamin to be your insurance policy to make sure your body is getting the nutrients it needs to do its best work.
On top of that, a superfood greens powder can help make up for the nutrients you’re missing out on from whole-food vegetables and fruits. With a high-quality greens powder, you’ll get powerful phytonutrients, herbs, antioxidants, and sometimes even probiotics and digestive enzymes to help improve your gut health.
This can play a massive role in your body’s ability to build lean muscle tissue and bulk up.
Other Tips For Bulking
I know how hard bulking can be firsthand. I struggled with gaining weight the majority of my life. From the nutrition to the training and everything in between, it’s tough.
The good news is being difficult doesn't mean it has to be complicated. At the end of the day, one piece of advice that I can give you when it comes to bulking is to keep eating!
If you stay consistent and are doing everything correctly, you’ll bulk up in no time.
If you find yourself stuck or needing some more guided help, we have your back! In fact, that’s exactly why we created the best all-in-one tool to help you earn the results you’re after. That tool is the 1st Phorm App!
In the app, you can work 1-on-1 with a certified advisor to help you create a game plan for success. You’ll have the ability to log your food, track your progress, choose between tons of workout programs for your goals, and even get daily educational videos and live streams.
If you have any questions at all, feel free to reach out to us! We have a full team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches who are happy to help you reach your goals for FREE! Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 or send us an email at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com.
(1) Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Feb 27;15:10. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1. PMID: 29497353; PMCID: PMC5828430.
(2). Moore, Daniel R, and Andrew Philp. “Editorial: Nutritional Strategies to Promote Muscle Mass and Function Across the Health Span.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 7 569270. 2 Oct. 2020, doi:10.3389/fnut.2020.569270
(3). Schoenfeld, Brad J et al. “Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 46,11 (2016): 1689-1697. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8ABOUT THE AUTHOR