For those of you just starting out this is probably all new to you and you really don’t understand the concept of cutting and bulking and why things happen during certain times of the year. So I will give you a thorough introduction here and lift the lid on what it is all about. For most, Autumn and Winter is the time to bulk and put on some slabs of meat. And if a little fat is added during this time, then so be it.
Then come Spring/Summer it is the time to cut and drop the fat and show off the new lean mass you’ve added. Summer wardrobes and beach holidays also come into the equation here and act as a great incentive, so it naturally makes sense to diet and hit some cardio during this time to get in the best shape of the year.
We all start from scratch. We aren’t placed on this planet to know everything without learning it. So here I am to the rescue! The rest of this article is especially for the new guys and girls who need some tips on how to effectively bulk. The following are 10 tips (in no particular order) to help you on your way to packing on some muscle.
Here’s a compilation of ‘must have’ items on your grocery list. Pick and choose the foods in those categories that you like:
– Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
– Tuna (water packed)
– Fish (salmon, seabass, halibut)
– Extra Lean Ground Beef or Ground Round (92-96%)
– Protein Powder
– Egg Whites or Eggs
– Ribeye Steaks or Roast
– Top Round Steaks or Roast (aka Stew Meat, London Broil, Stir Fry)
– Top Sirloin (aka Sirloin Top Butt)
– Beef Tenderloin (aka Filet, Filet Mignon)
– Top Loin (NY Strip Steak)
– Flank Steak (Sir Fry, Fajita)
– Eye of Round (Cube Meat, Stew Meat, Bottom Round , 96% Lean Ground Round)
– Ground turkey, Turkey Breast Slices or cutlets (fresh meat, not deli cuts)
– Oatmeal (Old Fashioned or Quick Oats)
– Sweet Potatoes (Yams)
– Beans (pinto, black, kidney)
– Oat Bran Cereal
– Brown Rice
– Farina (Cream of Wheat)
– Multigrain Hot Cereal
– Rice (white, jasmine, basmati, Arborio, wild)
– Potatoes (red, baking, new)
– Green Leafy Lettuce (Green Leaf, Red, Leaf, Romaine)
– String Beans
– Bell Peppers
– Brussels Sprouts
Other produce & fruits
– Green or Red Pepper
– Fruit (if acceptable on diet): bananas, apples, grapefruit, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries
– Lemons or Limes
– Natural Style Peanut Butter or Almond Butter
– Olive Oil, Safflower Oil, Almond Oil, Flaxseed Oil
– Nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnut)
– Olive, Canola, and Peanut – Monounsaturated Oils
– Safflower, Sunflower, Corn, Soybean, and Cottonseed – Polyunsaturated Oils
– Leafy veggies, seeds, nuts, grains – Omega-6
– Veggie oils (Safflower, Sunflower, Corn, Soybean, and Cottonseed), and poultry fat – Omega-6
– Oils (canola, flaxseed, soybean, walnut, wheat germ; canola or soybean oil) – Omega-3
– Nuts and seeds (butternuts, flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans) – Omega-3
– Fatty coldwater fish (mackerel, salmon, bluefish, mullet, sablefish) – EPA and DHA
– More fish (menhaden, anchovy, herring, lake trout, sardines, tuna) – EPA and DHA
Dairy & eggs
– Low-fat cottage cheese
– Low or Non-Fat Milk
While bulking you want to eat more calories (more than maintenance) and also eat more often. So you will actually be eating smaller meals than you would if you were only eating three each day (like normal humans). These meals will consist of protein, carbs, and fats. It doesn’t have to be anything big; it could be something as simple as an apple with peanut butter.
But you should strive for at least 6-8 small meals a day. By eating more often you will have a constant supply of fuel throughout the day which is a constant supply of nutrients to your muscles to help them grow. Not only will it do that, but it will also help keep your metabolism up so you don’t start adding body fat. You should also be striving for 1-2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight you have.
So if you weigh 150lbs you want to get between 150-300 grams of protein a day. Each of these meals can be spread 2-3 hours apart.
Here is a list of supplements which are great any time of the year, including while bulking. Note, I do not recommend supplementation for anyone under the age of 18 nor is supplementation ever a replacement for a good diet:
Whey protein (concentrate or isolate)
Protein is the building block for muscle. Without it you won’t make the gains you are looking for. You can use whey protein any time of the day and it won’t hurt you.
There are many different brands and flavours out there, find one that suits your taste buds and isn’t exorbitantly priced. You can use it pre-workout, post-workout, as a snack, or add some fruit and throw it in the blender to use it as a meal replacement. It is a quick and easy way to get your daily protein intake.
Casein protein is the best protein you can get to keep you anabolic throughout the night. It is a slow digesting protein which slowly breaks down over 6-8 hours. The last thing you want to do is go into a catabolic state and lose your hard-earned gains. This protein comes in especially handy before bed.
It is a necessity to purchase a good multivitamin. You need to get proper vitamins and minerals which you can’t get from food alone. A ultivitamin is essential to help with everyday activities and give you exactly what your body needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Creatine will help you not only recover efficiently, but it will help you gain lean mass quicker. Creatine is one of the most widely studied supplements on the market today and can be used safely before and after workouts. There is no need to do a loading phase nor to cycle creatine.
Fish oil gives you EFA’s which are the ‘good fats’ that we all need. Fatty acids are a necessity which most people don’t understand. They are important for cellular, heart, and metabolic health. We do not get enough ‘good fats’ in our diet each day so supplementing with fish oil is an important additional element.
Amino acids are the building blocks for protein. Without protein, gains are minimized. Amino acids are also used to help the brain function properly. Everyone needs BCAAs to help build muscle and recover. Yes, protein powder has amino acids in them, but look at the nutrition label and if they are in low doses, then it is best to get yourself some BCAAs.
3. Compound movements
Compound Movements are what makes you grow. Isolation Movements are predominantly for shaping of muscles rather than jacking up the growth hormones in your body and achieving mass gains.
Compound movements: are the squats, deadlifts, barbell presses, military presses and similar movements. They are any movement that requires more than one muscle to execute an exercise. These are the very foundation of body building and bulking.
It’s a fact that you don’t grow while in the gym. Growth occurs in rest and outside of the gym. Sure when you have a nice hard pump in the gym and your muscles are swollen and look larger you think you are getting bigger and bigger by each set. However this is little more than an illusion. That nice pump that we all long for is only temporary.
After about an hour those effects start to diminish and you will be about the same size as you were before you stepped into the gym that day. You need to rest your muscles and get adequate sleep at night to help increase growth hormones in your body which in turn help you gain lean muscle mass. Generally accepted rule is no less than 8 hours sleep per night. Anything less and you will be cutting yourself short with your gains.
5. Post-workout meal
Post-workout meals are very important. You can think of it as an old coal train. You throw a whole bunch of coal in to start the train and then you stop giving it coals, what eventually happens? The train stops. Same goes with your body. The food you eat preworkout gets used as fuel for the body during exercise.
Then as your workout comes to an end, the fuel has surely run out and it will be starving for more to grow. If you don’t feed your body, it can’t grow. And it is especially needed post-workout because that is when your body absorbs nutrients best. Your body is literally starving for nutrients at the end of your workout and if you don’t feed it then it simply can’t repair itself and grow.
The post-workout meal you need to be taking in around 45-50 grams of protein. Add in one to two times that amount of carbohydrates (90-100 grams).
If you are a hard-gainer, make it closer to 2 with most all of them coming from simple sources. If you tend to gain weight easily, then it’s better to stay closer to the equivalent of the amount of protein and make it half simple, half complex sources.
6. Keep cardio to a minimum
There’s no rocket science here. You don’t require a Ph.D. to understand why cardio is no great help in this scenario. When you do CV work you use up fuel (calories). However calories are what you need to grow. Take away calories, you take away gains. But I’m not saying stop cardio altogether.
Cardio is actually a good way to keep from putting on body fat during a bulking phase and an excellent way to keep the heart healthy. Cardio also increases your appetite so you will be able to down some extra calories to make up for the loss you experienced during your workout. You can get away with doing some low intensity cardio without losing lean mass gains so do not be afraid to do some CV activities while bulking.
7. Increase your calories
In order to gain weight (muscle), you must increase your calories. This doesn’t mean scooting off to your nearest fast food outlet at every opportunity though! An easy way to do this (especially if you are stuck at the same weight) is to track your calories.
When you find out how many calories you are eating to maintain your weight, simply add 250- 500 calories each day and by the end of the week see if you gained any weight. Don’t forget that 3500 calories is equal to one pound.
So theoretically, if you increased your calories by 500 each day for a week you should gain a pound. But this isn’t as easy as you may think. You can’t just eat some Twinkies or eat a cake. You still need to be eating clean to ensure you don’t gain fat. Yes, during your bulking phase, you will gain some fat. But do not get worried about this unless you are gaining too much in which case you need to look at your diet and clean it up.
It would be a smart idea for you to write down your weight once a week on the same day and at the same time. This will help with the accuracy of your results. You can also get your body fat measured once a week to see how much fat you are gaining. As mentioned before, if you are gaining a lot of fat, re-evaluate your diet.
Water is a key no matter what you are trying to accomplish. Staying hydrated increases protein synthesis so you will make better use of the protein you ingest. Strive for a gallon of water a day. And if you sweat a lot during your workout you definitely should be striving for more. Water also keeps your metabolism up due to the oxygen content in the water.
Most people have the mentality that more is better. This is not the case with training where quality really is more important than quantity. Most of the time the people who have that mindset are overtraining and in turn minimizing their gains. Depending on your exercise level you could train smartly with 3-6 days in the gym. You want to keep your workouts short but intense, an hour or a little less should be plenty.
Anything more and you are lowering your natural testosterone levels which you don’t want to do. The key is to experiment and find out what training style works best for your body. Some people respond very well to lower rep sets while others find higher is the way to go. Some people can get away with a low number of sets while others need to complete many sets to get results.
I would actually recommend starting with lower sets, evaluate your progress and adjust it accordingly. If you find you aren’t growing with the number of sets you are doing, gradually increase the sets and see how you respond. When it comes down to it, there really is no one way to train. Everyone is different. The fun part is trying new things to see what works best for you.
If building the body of your dreams was easy, then everyone would look good. It takes hard work and determination. Keep training hard and never be afraid to switch things up. Hitting the muscle differently is what sparks new growth which is what I’m sure everyone is trying to accomplish.
10. Have fun!
For most bodybuilding isn’t a full-time job. And for majority of us that is a very good thing. The life of a professional bodybuilder isn’t for everyone. Anyone can say they are a bodybuilder, but to be good at it you need to stick with it. You need to find something that motivates you and go with it. Set some short and long term goals, keep an eye on your progress and re-evaluate things.
Make things fun, try new things. You do not want to dread going to the gym every day. By evaluating your progress and seeing the improvements, that should be enough to make you want to keep hitting the gym. Sure there are days where everything around you is going wrong and you really don’t feel like going to the gym, but once you are there everything changes.
The weights don’t complain, they don’t yell at you and it’s a great way to release stress. Bodybuilding is a lifestyle. Living the bodybuilding lifestyle is a great way to stay healthy and achieving the body you always wanted. Your first step begins now!