Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Art of Bulking

Perhaps one of the sweetest sounding words to a bodybuilder's ears is the word "bulking." Traditionally, bulking has been associated with being able to eat any food you desire. It's a period of time dedicated to stuffing your face for the purpose of putting on weight. Gaining fat is not an issue because it can be stripped away later. Although this process may sound enticing, the traditional method of bulking is severely flawed. Bulking is more complicated than just stuffing your face and putting on weight. Unless you want to end up disappointed with your results, you need to do it correctly.

Clean vs. Dirty

Two common terms for bulking that are often tossed around are called clean bulking and dirty bulking. The definitions of these two types are debatable but the way I define them are as follows. Dirty bulking is trying to gain weight without taking fat gain into consideration. Clean bulking is trying to gain muscle while limiting fat gain as much as possible. Dirty and clean don't refer to your food choices since you can get fat eating nothing but healthy foods and you can make quality gains eating a mixture of healthy and junk foods. It just refers to the quality of the weight you put on.

Dirty Bulking Makes No Sense

The logic behind dirty bulking is severely flawed. It calls for gaining anywhere from 1 to 2 pounds per week in an attempt to ensure your body is putting on as much muscle as possible. The problem here is that a natural lifter can only put on between .25 and .5 pounds of pure muscle each week under ideal circumstances. If you are gaining even 1 pound per week, you are looking at half a pound of fat gain per week. If you think that you can add muscle at a faster pace than I'm saying, look at it another way. 1 pound per week is 52 pounds in a year. No one is going to put on 52 pounds of pure muscle in a year. If you do gain 52 pounds in a year, you will be fat. I can guarantee it.

The Proper Way to Bulk

A clean bulk is the only type of bulking that you should do. With this method, you should only be aiming to gain between .25 and .5 pounds per week. It seems like you will be gaining at a snail's pace but look long term. At .25 pounds per week, you will be gaining a little over 1 pound each month. That sounds like nothing but over the course of a year, it's 12 pounds. If you are new to lifting (lifting less than 2 years), you should aim to gain closer to .5 to .75 pounds per week. This is because your body can put muscle on at a faster rate when you are a beginner. After the 2 year mark, that is when I would switch to .25 pounds per week.

The Benefits of a Clean Bulk

There are two main benefits to gaining at this slower pace. The first one is that you will stay lean year round. You don't need to be worried about a surprise pool party or vacation to the beach since you will always be relatively the same body fat percentage. Perhaps the most important benefit though is the fact that you will never need to go on a prolonged cut ever again. With a dirty bulk, you are setting yourself up to need a 6 month cut in order to shed off the excess fat. During those 6 months, you will end up losing some muscle as well as the fat. With a clean bulk, you aren't going to be accumulating much fat if any at all. In fact, you may even get leaner. Instead of wasting half the year just trying to lose fat, you can focus on gaining muscle year round. As a result, you will be making twice the amount of progress by clean bulking. It's possible that you may need to throw in a mini cut every once in a while but it will not be nearly as dreadful as the long, drawn out cut that would be required for a dirty bulk.

Implementation of a Clean Bulk

Now that you know you should only be aiming for roughly .25 pounds a week (or .75 if you are new to lifting), you need to design your diet to ensure that is how much you will be gaining. To gain .25 pounds in a week, you need to be eating at a 125 calorie surplus per day. Since there are 3,500 calories in a pound, a quarter of that is 875. That 875 calories spread evenly over the 7 days in a week comes out to a 125 calorie surplus each day. If you are shooting for .75 pounds per week, your daily caloric surplus should be about 375.

As far as how many calories and what macros you should eat, refer to my article Diet: The Basics. To sum up the points in that article, first you need to find out your maintenance amount of calories. If you don't have a general idea, you can use an online calculator like this one. Once you have a rough estimate of your required maintenance calories, you should eat that amount of calories everyday for two weeks. Meanwhile, you should weigh yourself without clothes on in the morning twice a week to see what your weight is doing over those two weeks. If you are the same weight after two weeks then you have found your maintenance. If you lost some weight then your maintenance is higher and if you gained weight then your maintenance is lower. Adjust accordingly for another week or two until you get your weight to stabilize so you know you have found your maintenance. Once you know how many calories to eat to maintain, you should add 125 to that number to get your total required calories in order to gain .25 pounds per week. Once you have the total amount of calories to eat, you need to break down the macros. Generally shoot for 1.25 grams of protein per body weight and .45 grams of fat per body weight. Fill in the rest with carbohydrates. Lets take a 180 pound 18 year old male as an example. His protein should be 225 grams and his fat should be 81 grams. That yields 1,629 calories. If he has determined that his maintenance amount of calories is 2,500, he should be aiming for 2,625 calories per day which leaves 250 grams of carbohydrates.

In order to track your calories accurately, you should use a food scale at least initially to judge how much of each food equals a portion. Something like this will do. Additionally, to track your weight gain progress, it's important to have a reliable bathroom scale. There is no need to pay for a fancy, expensive scale. This one hasn't failed me yet.

As far as food choices, it is always best to fuel your body with quality foods to ensure optimal health and performance. Some good sources of carbohydrates include rice, oatmeal, pasta, and potatoes. Some excellent sources of protein include eggs, fish, chicken, beef, whey, and turkey. A few foods to provide healthy fats are nut butters, nuts, and olive oil. You don't need to limit yourself to these foods. The important aspect is to hit your desired macro nutrients for the day. That is what will determine whether your bulk is successful or not.


To sum everything up, a clean bulk is the way to go to put on quality muscle mass. It will enable you to stay lean year round while actually helping you make faster progress by eliminating the need to go on a prolonged cut. You only really need to gain .25 pounds per week once you have been lifting for a couple of years and .75 pounds per week if you are new to lifting. It's perfectly fine if you decide to gain at a slightly faster pace than this. Just be ready to do a few mini cuts at some point. A dirty bulk is certainly easier to follow but your results with a clean bulk will be far superior. By eliminating the need to go on a long term cut, you enable yourself to be in a calorie surplus year round to make muscle gains.


Wilson said...

You should do an article on cutting next! I really need to get a six pack this summer! Thanks!

OoFaP said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I will do that next.

Lefteris said...

Would you recommend using a weight gainer to reach the daily caloric needs?

OoFaP said...

Only if you really can't eat anymore calories. If you can eat enough and gain weight without one, then save your money. You can always make your own. Just blend up some whey, oats, peanut butter, and milk.

Brent Buckner said...

You write: "Since there are 3500 calories in a pound"

That's not the standard number for calories in a pound of muscle; it is the standard number for calories in a pound of fat.

Rui said...

hi. i'm trying to clean bulk, but as I always eat healthy meals and been lean for all my life, i'm finding it really hard to put on some weight... would you suggest me some suplements and food or the time to eat it, so that i coul gain some wheight?

p.s. Try to do a new article about: gym workou vs the old ways or sth like that (push ups, sit ups, etc)

OoFaP said...

You can try making your own weight gain shake. Use whey protein, milk, peanut butter, yogurt, a banana, oats and whatever else you would like. Throw it in a blender and have that in addition to your other meals.

Marc Wilson said...

Hi just need a clarification something. When you mentioned about .75 pounds per week, are you talking about that amount of muscle gained or are you talking about the weight gain (which includes muscle gained as well as fat)? I ask this question because I was reading an article that mentioned if for example you wanted to gain 0.5 lbs of muscle per week from a bulk, you would have to consume 1 lb per week (half would be muscle and half fat). So unless you wanted .75 lbs of muscle per week, you would have to consume 1.5 lb per week and half would be .75 lbs of muscle right? Is this actually true? Overall your post was very informative and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

BTW, not really sure if that articles true...

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