Tips to a Successful Gaining / Bulking Diet
Most often the №1 mistake regarding bulking or gaining or keeping in shape is setting unrealistic goals and a timetable (Gaining too fast which causes more pains than you would think). People think it can be done overnight, in a few weeks, or even in a month. That is going to depend on what you start out (weight and physique wise) and what you are trying to achieve. Think about this for a second. As a natural trainee who has some experience under his belt and is not very new to lifting the amount of muscle you will truly make in a year will be no more than around 10-12 pounds if you have spot on diet and training. Let’s face is, most of us are human; we are not going to be able to nail every single meal and every single training session like we would like.
Things come up, family events come up, and vacations come up and may set us back. Now while you may be bulking or gaining this may be easier than cutting, but for some they under estimate when they cannot track calories, or as we all know eating out is quite expensive and to get in loads of kcals (good calories) when eating out you will be paying a bit more than you would want for some extra protein like chicken, steak etc. The bulking game is a patience game just like cutting, lean mass does not happen right away, and will take some time to lay more muscle onto your frame.
First thing’s first…
Let’s start by establishing what we should do to help measure our intake. Since we are trying to gain we must first try to establish our BMR and TDEE which are essential to let us know what we burn literally sitting on our butt all day (BMR = Basic metabolic Rate) and TDEE (The amount of kcals you burn in a 24 hour period). While using online calculators are great, they are just that an online calculator, don’t place a lot of faith in them because it will spit out a number for you. This is where you need to do a lot of “Trial and Error” which is the most optimal thing to do. Start with a number say your BMR Is around 2000, and you want to slowly gain, start with 3,000 kcals. There are so many variables that will change what the individual should consume. Think about how often you train (Frequency), amount of volume you use (the more volume the more glycogen depletion), Amount of cardio (More cardio = more calories burned), how much you weigh, how tall you are. These are all important and play into the main scheme of things.
Energy In (corrected for digestion) = (BMR/RMR + TEF + TEA + SPA/NEAT) + Change in Body Stores
Very simple showing you that the amount of kcals you eat (Energy In) = BMR (Basic metabolic rate + TEF + NEAT (exercise and non-exercise activity).
My personal belief unless you are going to use “Enhancing” supplements that you should try to meet your fiber, protein, and fat minimums first and foremost 1g/lb. of Protein (if you weigh 200 pounds then 200g) at least 20% of your diet coming from Fats (so .2) and the rest carbs.
Now let’s say you need 3000 calories and are 200 pounds
200 pounds = 200g of protein = 800 kcals
20% of 3000 = 600kcals which /9 = 66.6 Which we could run to 67g
and the rest carbs (Around 400g)
Some people will not respond well to a higher carb diet and that is fine, you can simply adjust by adding a higher fat intake. Say 25-30% and lowering your carbs. We have to remember in a caloric surplus that more protein is not always better. More protein will just be stored like any other macronutrient in a caloric surplus, but carbs and fats are more protein sparing once are minimums are met!
Next we will talk about training for gaining. Now the crazy thing is there is no difference, in all honesty you should still lift heavy (Type I Muscle Fibers) and lift in the hypertrophy rep range (Type II Muscle Fibers). Why? Because no rep range is going to make you grow, using all rep ranges will make you grow.
We have to realize that in a surplus we do have a little more leeway than when we are in a deficit and can use a bit extra volume due to extra glycogen, and we can get carried away with excessive training techniques like drop sets, accumulation sets, rest pause sets, forced negatives, iso tension and so forth and so on. When dieting our calories are limited, our recover is impaired and we have to be wise with how much cardio and training we are doing to balance and preserve our muscle mass. For those who may be new to training I would suggest looking into these programs:
- Starting Strength
- Mad cow 5x5
These are all very simple and easy programs. I would highly suggest sticking to a 5/3/1 Boring But Big setup which focuses on the compound lifts (as all new lifters should focus on) and getting down adequate form and range of motion. Remember it’s not about how much you lift, but also how good your form is and stimulating the proper muscle.
Training full body 3x a week would be optimal for newbies to make sure they are getting in good gym time, but also good rest time to help with their gains. Remember we grow “out of the gym” not “in the gym” if our caloric needs and diet do not match our training our goal will never be achieved.
As one becomes more experienced in training I would suggest looking into more upper/lower routines or more frequent routines.
Lyle’s Generic Bulking Routine (Right off bodyrecomposition.com)
West Side for Skinny Bastards (Upper/lower with hypertrophy and power days) 5/3/1 and more advanced alternatives than Boring but big.
Once the trainee would have a good 1-2 years of fundamentals built up over time these would be good considerations. Mostly all of them focus on an upper/lower (Deadlifting/squatting at least once a week) and hitting each muscle group almost 2x a week because the 5/3/1 may be overlapping with accessory work for the other muscle groups after performing the complex lift.
After you get a good 3 years in your system then I would venture into more advanced routines that you may see pro bodybuilders or those who you look up to running for instance:
- Layne Norton’s PHAT routine
- Smolov (For Squatting)
- Shieko (29, 37, 30, 40) These are all very popular but high volume.
- CUBE (powerlifting)
These routines may be a bit advanced and require some kcals and also some good knowledge on lifting, but if you try to jump to something advanced right away you will burn out, it won’t lead to results, and lead to more headaches than you would want.
Since we have covered training and caloric needs let’s also talk about some things we should consider in the offseason as well. Some people like to run their calories the same every day, and if they stall they just simply increase kcals, while others (since we are human) like some moderation. And this is where refeed meals/refeed days, or cheat meals could come into play.
I personally enjoy one meal off my diet per week of whatever I want. If I want to go out with a friend and grab Chinese I just replace one meal with that and move on for the day, have a slice of cake with it and call it a day and back on my diet. Some people cannot control themselves off a cheat meal in the middle of a day and will continue to eat junk the rest of the day because they blew their diet and hitting their calories, this is where I would suggest using your cheat meal as your last meal of the day so once you are finished there is nothing left to eat and you can move on to tomorrow and then get back on track with your diet.
Some contest prep coaches still like to use refeeds even in the offseason and even in a surplus that is a great way to add in some extra kcals and spark some growth IMO. For instance someone is on that baseline diet we talked about above. 200g of protein, 400g of carbs, and 66g of fat. On say a lagging bodypart day that individual will lower protein a touch, lower fat a touch and increase carbs. A general rule of thumb I like to do is drop protein 20-25g, fat 5-10g and increase carbs 125-150g
So this would look like on the refeed days:
175g Protein, 525g of carbs, and 55-60g of fat
Now the kcals are a bit higher (which is the point of a refeed) and also since we may be hitting our minimums of fiber/fat and maybe a bit shy on protein the surplus of kcals will cover what we are missing in the end.
These are good tactics we could use in the offseason to help spark our growth and continue to aid in lean gains since we are still “Tracking” our intake, and knowing what adjustments need to be made if we stall or if we gain too fast (cut back on total kcals every day or cut back on the refeeds).
Some quotes I want to finish this article with are stances from other bodybuilding coaches or contest prep coaches and their importance towards lean mass.
John Meadows on the subject:
“Bulking up (getting fat) = eventual decreased insulin sensitivity at some point, still waiting for someone to explain to me how you can grow faster (muscle) in this state.
You also have to consider how the person stores bodyfat too, some people store it pretty evenly so they can get a little chunkier, some people like me store it in one area in globs. These people have to be really careful because it is already hard to get that area down, now you go add 5% fat to it…prepare for 12 weeks of hell. Getting that tough area down will likely hurt other areas.
It’s also knowing your body. Eventually you get to a point where you keep raising calories and you aren’t even sure if you are even gaining muscle, you can just see fat accumulation. Gaining 5 lbs. of fat to gain 1 lb. of muscle is a bad idea. You will lose that 1 lb. of muscle trying to get the 5 of fat off.
Getting fat over and over can make getting leaner harder each time. If you overdue it, then have to kill yourself to come down, what do you think your body’s first response is going to be when you start your next diet? Yes, survive and hang onto that fat.
I personally don’t see any reason to get above 12-15% for most guys. Ultimately it will depend on where you start to lose insulin sensitivity, pumps decrease, muscle start getting softer, etc. There are signs if you know what you are looking for.”
“I read a lot on here and contrary to what people think I hate no one on here. I just have different opinions from my trials and errors. I will never hover above stage weight as others do because I feel as no improvements to weak parts can be made. Sure you’ll get harder and look better but you still never improved your physique. You actually made your weaknesses more noticeable. How many really competitive guys stay lean year round? Not many! Cause muscle cannot be added without fat accumulation. This wasn’t towards anyone in particular but just seeing a trend lately. But you all have to decide, do you want to gain 3lbs a year and in 5-7yrs climb a weight class? Or live a little wilder and climb 10-20lbs a year and climb a weight class in 2-3yrs (then solidify that weight)? Each has their tradeoffs.”
Lyle McDonald on Muscular Potential:
I am not sure if I came up with this idea on my own or stole it from somewhere else (probably a combination of the two) but, in a slightly different context (how quickly can someone gain muscle), I have often thrown out the following values for rates of muscle gain.
Year of Proper Training Potential Rate of Muscle Gain per Year
- 20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)
- 10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)
- 5-6 pounds (0.5 pound per month)
- + 2-3 pounds (not worth calculating)
Shelby Starnes on Gaining Size in the offseason:
“Generally speaking, I believe you should always be able to see at least an outline of your abs even deep in the off-season. The fat at the lower back “love handle” area should also be kept to a minimum. For most people this means a max of about 12% body fat or so. I’m not big on numbers and measurements, though; I just go by the mirror. How you look is more important than a number.
For those that really want to push the envelope, such as a bodybuilder looking to jump up a weight class, I believe it’s acceptable (and sometimes even advisable) to get a bit heavier, but 15% body fat is about the max. If you allow yourself to get that high, make sure to allow extra time for dieting afterwards. Another important factor to consider is where you feel socially and psychologically comfortable.
Bodybuilding should be enjoyable (though challenging), so if staying lighter and leaner makes the journey more palatable to you, then by all means do it. You’ll never be consistent in your efforts if you hate how you look and feel in the off-season.
If it drives you nuts to try to stay relatively lean in the offseason, then just do your best and save the dieting for pre-contest time. Not everyone has the same motivation and drive year-round. Just remember that your progress will mirror your effort, assuming your effort is intelligently planned.