How To Bulk Up. Have You Been Doing It Wrong?
With the winter months quickly approaching, many guys have started to dedicate themselves to packing on more muscle for the next summer by entering a “bulking” phase. “Bulking” has become a controversial subject in the fitness world. The reason I say this is that when guys think of the word bulk in context of building muscle, they picture eating copious amounts of food, getting as big as they possibly can, and just increasing the number on the scale week after week. Though it does work to an extent if you want to increase your weight, most of the time guys generally put on too much fat in relation to muscle.
In this article, I’m going to outline why you shouldn’t aim to increase the numbers on the scale rapidly, what it does to your body when you store excess amounts of fat, and how to bulk up properly.
The fact of the matter is, many guys who claim to be bulking, go about it the wrong way.
There is this huge misconception in the fitness world that in order to gain muscle, you must stuff your face with food every chance that you get. This will often lead guys to go out after a gym session and just pack in 2000-3000 calories in a single sitting.
Many guys eat as much junk food as they can, sleep as much as they can, thinking that it’s helping them grow muscle, but in reality, they’re just becoming fat slobs without knowing it.
Their girlfriends usually cringe at the fact that their abs are replaced by jumbo muffin tops, and they can usually get away with saying: “but babe, I’m bulking, I’ll look so much better when summer comes, you just wait.” But you know what? When summer does come, and they cut down to having a rippling 6 pack abs, they are often the same as the year before! Not a single ounce of muscle has been gained. All they went through was putting on 20-30 pounds of fat in the “off season” and just went on burning it off wasting about 12-16 weeks.
I’m telling you this now, if you’ve ever been a victim of a heavy bulk, you’ve been doing it wrong. Though you need to be in a calorie surplus to gain muscle, it’s not as much as you think.
As I’ve stated in the few lines above, you do need to be in a calorie surplus to gain muscle, but you don’t need to become a fat slob doing it. You need to get rid of the “I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want” mentality when you want to bulk.
For example: if your maintenance calories are 2500 a day to maintain your weight, you only need about 300-500 excess calories per day to gain weight. If your body has enough calories to synthesis new muscle growth at 300 calories above maintenance weight, you do not need any more excess proteins, fats, or carbs. That will not help you to gain muscle any quicker. Anything more than that, your body will end up storing it as fat, and it can happen fast. Real fast.
I can hear you many of you probably saying to yourself: “But John, if we’re in a calorie surplus, it’s always guaranteed that we’ll put on fat because more calories than you need equates to weight gain.” That is true. But your end goal in bulking is to gain lean muscle, not to put on excess fat.
Though you can’t escape unwanted fat loss during a bulk, you can prevent your body from storing a lot more than is necessary. Excess fat storage due to a super high calorie intake can be detrimental to your muscle gains because it does 3 things:
- More fat = less testosterone
- More fat = lower insulin sensitivity
- More fat = more fat cells, making it harder to get lean
Lets talk about fat and testosterone
When you’re looking to build muscle, testosterone plays a huge role in whether or not new muscle growth happens and maximizing your testosterone levels in the body is key to gaining new muscle . The more fat you have on your body, the less testosterone you will have. The less testosterone that you have, the harder it is to build new muscle and keep it.
Fat cells have a direct correlation with levels of testosterone in the body because fat cells contain an enzyme called aromatase. In simple definition aromatase is responsible for converting testosterone into estrogen, and estrogen causes the body to store more fat, so you can see how this can be a self sabotage to your muscle gains. Women naturally have curvy bodies and store more body fat than men because of the estrogen hormone.
Lower insulin sensitivity with higher fat levels
Insulin is responsible in your body to store fat for energy. When you eat carbohydrates, insulin is released into the blood stream to control blood sugar. The “glucose” which is used for energy in the body is then either shuttled to the muscle, or stored away as fuel, also known as body fat. If you have a low insulin sensitivity due to having more body fat than you should, your body will have a harder time breaking down carbohydrates and absorbing the nutrients. That leads to more fat gain, and the more fat you have, the less testosterone your body will produce. It’s an endless cycle which can cripple your muscle gains.
Don’t gain more fat cells
Every year that you go on a super high calorie surplus is another year that you are adding more and more fat cells to your body. What do I mean about this? Well in short, your body can’t destroy fat cells. Once you gain fat cells, they can never be gotten rid of. When you lean down and get shredded, it’s your existing fat cells that have shrunken down. So when you go from having a lean body to gaining fat, your body first fills up the existing fat cells on the body and as soon as your current fat cells are replenished, if there is left over energy, your body will create more and more fat cells. This will eventually lead you to have a harder and harder time revealing that 6 pack.
How to bulk up properly
When you decide to pack on more muscle, you should still be strategically planning out your calories and what you eat on a day to day basis if you want to maximize your bodies ability to put on muscle. Being on a bulk doesn’t give you a license to become a fat ass.
Your primary goal of a bulk is to gain muscle, NOT fat. Gaining large amounts of fat, as you can see by the points that I’ve listed, can often set you backwards during your goal of packing on lean mass, and be an endless cycle of weight gain (which is the primary goal of a bulk) but weight gain does not always constitute to muscle gain.
The natural and experienced lifter can look at gaining anywhere between 3-7 pounds of lean mass a year, and that’s with hard work in the gym, strict nutrition and of course, dedication. If you notice that you’re putting on 7-10 pounds a month on the scale, you’re probably gaining more fat than muscle, if any.
When you decide to pack on muscle, you should give it at least a year on a calorie surplus
Many people often go on little “mini” bulks which are 3 to 6 months long, expecting to gain 5 pounds of lean mass in the process. It does not work like that. Unless you are on anabolic steroids of course. The body just doesn’t build new muscle tissue that quickly to give you noticeable gains in that amount of time. You should aim to train for at least a year to a year and a half in a calorie surplus and then gauge your results.
How should you be eating?
If you want to build muscle without gaining crazy amounts of fat, you need to keep your diet in control. That means not to go all out and eat whatever you want, whenever you want. As I’ve stated before when you bulk you should aim to keep your calories slightly above your maintenance level.