Knowing how to bulk the right way is crucial if you want to see rapid muscle growth and transform your physique.
Bulking is when you eat more calories than you burn while training for muscle gain.
However, bulking is more than stuffing your face to gain weight the fastest way possible. Your end goal is building muscle, after all, not getting fat.
When done right, bulking is the best way to add lean mass to your frame without excess fat gain.
A failed bulking phase, on the other hand, means looking worse only to risk muscle loss when you cut to lean down. You want to outgrow your shirts at the chest and shoulders, not your waistline.
This article walks you through the right way to bulk: how to eat (and how much), how to train, and which supplements will help your efforts.
Table of Contents
How to Bulk in Seven Easy Steps
- Eat a 10–20% calorie surplus above your maintenance calorie needs.
- Consume plenty of protein, at least 1.2–1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
- Eat enough carbs to support your gym workouts and good fats, like avocados, nuts, and seeds, for health and hormones.
- Lift weights 3–4 times per week.
- Get 7–8 hours of sleep per night.
- Consider supplements like creatine, protein powder, and weight gainers.
Easy peasy, right? But if you want a detailed breakdown on how to optimize your bulk, keep reading.
What Is Bulking?
The official definition of “bulk” is to increase in size; expand; swell.1
When you’re bulking up, you combine strength training and a high-calorie intake to give your muscles what they need to grow. Bulk the correct way, and you’ll expand and swell in the right places.
During a bulk, you’ll eat more calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight: a caloric surplus.
However, you can’t just eat and hope to grow muscles. You also need to do your duties in the gym. Lifting heavy weights tells your body where to use the extra food: to build lean muscle mass, not just store it as body fat.
Bulking is like supercharging your muscles with extra food and workouts so they can grow.
Bodybuilders typically bulk in the off-season when not preparing for a competition. It is much easier to gain muscle on a calorie surplus.
The bulking period is usually followed by a cutting phase, in which you reduce your calorie intake to lose excess body fat while maintaining your muscle gains.
However, you don’t have to be a competitive bodybuilder to benefit from bulking. If you want to increase your muscle strength and mass as possible, a well-executed bulk is the way to go.
Who Benefits From Bulking?
Almost everyone can benefit from a good bulk. A high caloric intake and high-intensity sessions in the weight room are the perfect combo to pack on the pounds.
A bulking period is particularly helpful if you are one of the following:
- Experienced lifters: If you have been lifting weights for at least a year and have reached a plateau in your muscle gains, a bulk may be what you need to continue making progress.
- People with a naturally lean physique: If you are “skinny,” you can bulk more aggressively and kickstart muscle growth without gaining too much fat.
- Athletes: If you need to increase your body weight, muscle mass, and strength for your sport, a bulking period can take your performance to the next level.
- People who want to get strong: Bulking is fantastic for increasing your strength. You can get stronger at the same body weight, but gaining weight makes it significantly faster and easier.
Are There People Who Don’t Benefit from Bulking?
If you are already overweight or obese, bulking is not a good idea.
The extra calories will primarily build more fat, not muscle, and worsen your body composition further. Bulking can lead to excessive fat gain if you are already overweight or obese and even increase your risk of health problems.
If you are unwilling to gain any fat, bulking is not the right approach for you.
Bulking inevitably leads to some fat gain. You can build muscle on maintenance calories; it’s just not as fast because your body doesn’t have the anabolic advantage of an energy surplus.
It is even possible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time, but it is much trickier and not a guaranteed success.
If you have certain medical conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before bulking up. They can be made worse if you gain weight.
In addition, people who are new to lifting don’t usually need to bulk up to build muscle and strength at a good pace.
Newbie gains are a fact, and beginners often see great results from regular weight training and a healthy diet.
Benefits of Bulking
Bulking is a very effective strategy to increase your muscle mass and strength. It boosts your gains in several ways:
Maximize Muscle Growth
Eating more calories than you burn gives your muscle cells an anabolic boost and provides your body with what it needs to grow bigger and stronger.
A caloric surplus boosts muscle protein synthesis, which helps you pack on the muscle mass.
Along with muscle size, your strength can increase greatly during a bulking phase.
As your muscles grow larger, they can generate more force.
In addition, increased body weight makes you more stable in compound exercises and allows you to handle heavier loads.
The extra number of calories and nutrients you consume during a bulk helps you recover from your muscle-building workouts.
When your body has more nutrients at its disposal, it can repair and rebuild damaged muscle tissue more efficiently, reducing soreness and recovery time.
Enhanced Training Performance
A higher caloric intake boosts your energy levels. That extra energy allows you to train harder and longer, leading to more effective workouts and, as a result, faster progress.
Improved Athletic Performance
Increased muscle mass and strength improve physical performance, and a sensible bulk makes you a better athlete in many sports.
Seeing yourself get bigger and stronger on a weekly basis can be very motivating and rewarding.
Disadvantages of Bulking
Bulking can help your reach your fitness goals in many ways, but it also comes with some drawbacks you should be aware of.
You Might Need a New Wardrobe
As you grow during your bulk, your clothes will start to fit tighter. Because you inevitably gain some body fat while bulking, your nice and snug pants might become too snug around the waist.
If you always wear loose-fitting, oversized clothes, you will probably not have any issues, but if you wear tailored clothing, you could end up needing to buy some new clothes if you don’t want to walk around in elastic waist jogging pants every day.
Bulking Can Get Expensive
Eating more food means buying more food, and we all know that can be a costly business.
While you can bulk on a budget by preparing a food budget and sticking to it, prep foods at home instead of eating out, and buying nutrient-dense foods in bulk, upping your caloric intake often ups your food costs, too.
Potential Adverse Health Effects
A sensible bulk will not harm you, but gaining weight too quickly or eating massive amounts of unhealthy foods can be detrimental to some health markers.
- Cramming down junk to gain weight as fast as possible will likely not boost your muscle growth further and can lead to adverse effects like increased blood pressure.
- Excessive body fat is also a risk factor for insulin resistance and poor insulin sensitivity.
Don’t overdo your bulk, and it won’t harm your health.
Rapid bulking can also cause stretch marks on your skin. When your skin rapidly expands to accommodate your new body mass, it might not be able to keep up, resulting in unsightly red streaks. Stretch marks are, unfortunately, permanent, although they fade over time.
If you’re gaining more than 0.5% of your body weight per week or you start to notice significant fat accumulation around your waist, it’s time to reassess your bulk and cut back on your calories.
Different Types of Bulking
There are two main types of bulking: clean bulking and dirty bulking.
- Clean bulking involves eating mostly good foods and gradually increasing your calorie intake over time. It is the best way to bulk to minimize fat gain.
- Dirty bulking involves eating how much and whatever you want, even pure junk food, regardless of nutritional value. A dirty bulk can lead to a rapid rate of weight gain, but much of it will be in the form of fat mass.
Which Type of Bulk Is Best?
Most people will get the best results from a clean bulk. It allows for great gains (you don’t build more and more muscle the more extensive your calorie surplus) while keeping your body fat levels under control.
The seefood diet (see food = eat food), aka dirty bulking, might be helpful for someone who is very lean and struggles to put on weight no matter what they eat.
In general, though, opting for a clean bulk is a good rule of thumb. It is the healthiest and most sustainable way to gain muscle mass.
That doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a pizza or some ice cream now and then. On the contrary, an occasional cheat meal won’t harm anything. But the majority of your diet should be healthy, nutrient-dense foods.
How to Bulk: Diet and Nutrition
Everybody likes to eat, so let’s start with the diet part of bulking.
The Importance of a Calorie Surplus
Calories are a way to measure the energy in the food we eat. Our bodies use this energy to do everything, like moving, thinking, and working out.
Eating fewer calories than your burn – a caloric deficit – makes you lose weight.
To gain weight, you must eat more calories than you burn.
In other words, a calorie surplus is essential to a successful bulk.
You can build muscle without it, but it is significantly more challenging. It’ll be slow going, and you’re certainly not bulking if you’re not overeating to some extent.
When you eat more calories than you burn in a day, your body has more energy than it needs. That surplus doesn’t just disappear. Your body stores it, which causes your body weight to go up.
Some of that extra energy is used to build new muscle tissue. When you combine a calorie surplus with regular strength training, more of the weight you gain will be lean muscle mass.
Conversely, sitting on your butt and shoveling down massive amounts of food will primarily cause fat gain and much less new muscle.
How Many Extra Calories Do You Need to Build Muscle?
You might have heard the saying, “You have to eat big to get big.”
While it is valid to some extent, going overboard with your food intake will make you more fat than muscular.
The more calories you eat, the faster you’ll gain weight. However, more and more of that weight gain will be pure fat.
A massive caloric surplus does little for your muscle gains compared to a moderate surplus.
A caloric surplus of 10–20% above maintenance is a good starting point, allowing for good muscle gain while keeping increases in body fat under control. For most people, that means aiming for a daily calorie surplus of 250–500 calories.
- If you are relatively new to strength training or naturally skinny, you can aim for the upper end of that interval.
- On the other hand, if you are an advanced lifter, go with the lower-end recommendations.
Gains always slow down with training experience. When you’ve been lifting for years, you can’t add muscle mass in a short amount of time, no matter how you eat. That means that if you start pounding the calories, the pounds you add to your body will be fat weight.
You can use our nifty calculator to find out how many calories you should eat the easy way.
It takes into account your activity level and estimates your maintenance calories.
You then add 250–500 calories to that number, and you have your daily calorie goals.
Let’s say you arrive at 3,000 calories for your daily maintenance needs after taking your general activity level and workout routine into account. That’s where your weight is stable.
To optimize your bulk without gaining too much fat, you decide on a 300-calorie surplus.
Your bulking calorie intake: 3,300 calories.
Keep that number in mind; we’ll come back to it later.
Macros for Bulking
Eating enough calories to support muscle growth is the foundation of your bulking diet strategy.
However, calories are only one of the things you must consider for a successful bulk.
The three macronutrients, protein, fat, and carbohydrates, are almost equally important factors.
Not only do they provide the nutrients your muscles need to grow, but they are also the sources of your calories.
- Protein provides four calories per gram.
- Carbohydrates also provide four calories per gram.
- Fat provides more than twice as much energy as protein or carbs: nine calories per gram.
Not all calories are equal; eating a certain number of calories from protein will not fuel the same processes in your body as calories from carbs or fat.
- You need protein to repair and grow muscles, especially after intense workouts.
- Carbohydrates provide energy for your workouts and help replenish muscle glycogen and help your recover between training sessions.
- Fats support overall health, hormone production, and energy.
You can optimize your bulking diet for muscle growth and performance by tracking your macros.
Protein is an essential nutrient for building muscle. It consists of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle tissue.
When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids and then uses them to build and reinforce your muscle fibers and other tissues. The protein you eat does more than build lean mass, though. It helps produce energy and hormones, supports immune function, and much more.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 different amino acids your body uses to build muscle, nine of which are “essential,” meaning your body cannot produce them. Instead, you must obtain them from your diet.
When you lift weights, you kickstart the signals for your body to start building muscle. For this to happen, your body needs protein.
How Much Protein Do You Need When Bulking?
The amount of protein you need to build muscle depends on several factors, including your age, sex, activity level, and fitness goals.
However, if you want great results from your hard work in the gym, building as much muscle as possible, current protein recommendations for the average adult are way too low.
As a general rule of thumb, most people trying to build muscle when bulking should aim to consume 1.2–2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.2 3 That is equivalent to 0.5–0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
Our handy calculator is the best and easiest way to find out how much protein you need each day:
The Best Protein Sources for Bulking
There are many good sources of protein, including:
- Dairy products
Spreading your protein intake throughout the day gives your body a steady supply of amino acids to repair and build muscle tissue. An easy way to split your daily protein intake is to consume 0.4 g/kg/meal (≈0.2g/pound/meal) across a minimum of four meals.4
Here are some tips for getting enough protein to build muscle during your bulk:
- Include a source of protein at every meal and snack.
- Choose high-protein foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- Use protein powder to boost your protein intake, if needed.
- Spread your protein intake throughout the day.
After a workout, you should try to consume 20–40 grams of high-quality protein within a reasonable timeframe to give your muscles the building material they need. A protein shake is a convenient option, but “real food” works just as well.
Back to our example calorie target of 3,300 calories.
Let’s say you weigh 90 kilograms (198 pounds) at the start of your bulk.
To ensure your body has enough building blocks to support your bulk, you go with 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
In other words, your daily protein target will be around 180 grams. That includes all sources of protein in your diet, not just meat, eggs, and protein shakes.
If you don’t hit that target exactly, it’s not a big deal, especially if you go above it, but that’s what you’re aiming for, protein-wise, on a daily basis.
Those 180 grams provide 720 calories (180 x 4 = 720). That leaves 2,580 calories for your fat and carb intake.
Dietary fat is an essential macronutrient, just like protein. It plays a vital role in many bodily functions.
- Fat is needed to produce testosterone. One of the primary funcitions of testosterone is to build and maintain muscle.
- Fat is a major component of your cell membranes. They protect your cells and allow them to communicate with each other.
- Vitamins like A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning you can only absorb them in the presence of fat.
- Fat is a concentrated source of energy. It providing more than double the calories of protein and carbs.
Types of Dietary Fat
There are four main types of dietary fat:
- Saturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Trans fats
The fat you eat provide a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats but in different proportions.
- Saturated fat is found in animal products, such as meat, dairy, and eggs.
- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are found in fish and plant-based foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
- Trans fats are made when vegetable oils are processed in a certain way and are often found in things like fried foods, baked goods, and some packaged snacks. They are the only geninely unhealthy fats and should not be a significant part of your bulking diet.
There is no one-size-fits-all fat intake for bodybuilders or for someone bulking, but a moderate intake is best for most people.
Most athletes should consume 20-35% of their daily calories from fat.5
There is nothing wrong with eating more fat than that (it’s a myth that you get fat from eating fat – you get fat from eating more calories than you need, no matter where they come from), but don’t go below 20% of your energy intake. Too little fat in your diet can compromise your production of muscle-building hormones.
The Best Fat Sources for Bulking
Here are some of the best fat sources to incorporate into your bulking routine:
- Avocado is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats. It’s versatile and can be added to salads, sandwiches, or smoothies.
- Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and other fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and are great for heart health.
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are packed with healthy fats. They make for great snacks on the go, or you can add them to your meals for some fatty crunch.
- Extra virgin olive oil is a source of monounsaturated fats. It’s excellent for sautéing and drizzling over salads.
- Although high in saturated fats, coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that are quickly converted into energy.
- Nut butters are great for adding to shakes, spreading on whole-grain bread, or just indulging in a spoonful. Almond, cashew, and peanut butter provide healthy fats (and protein, too).
- Eggs contain healthy fats, especially in the yolk, and an abundance of micronutrients. They are give you one of the best sources of muscle-building protein in a convenient package.
- Full-fat dairy, like yogurt and cheese, contains healthy saturated fats and the best protein in the world for building muscle.
- While general recommendations often suggest cutting down on red meat, it is a fantastic food for muscle gain and can be included in moderation in your bulking diet.
You decide that 30% of your calories should come from fat during your bulk. It leaves room for plenty of dietary protein and carbs and is enough to optimize your hormones for muscle gain.
Thirty percent of 3,300 is 990. Let’s say an even 1,000 calories from fat. Because each gram of fat provides 9 calories, that means 111 grams of fat daily (1000 / 9 = 111). More so than protein, it does not matter if you deviate somewhat from this number. Have it as a baseline target, but be flexible.
After accounting for your fat calories, you have 1,580 calories left to play with.
Unlike protein and fat, carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient. You can live and be healthy on protein and fats alone.
That does not mean that carbs are bad. On the contrary, they can be very helpful for fueling your muscles (and brain) and making your bulk more productive.
Some of the carbs you eat are used immediately for energy. The rest is stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen. Glycogen is a readily available source of energy that can be used during physical activity like weight lifting.
Healthy carb sources for your bulk include
- Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats)
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
In addition, there is nothing wrong with including some processed carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta, in your bulking diet. You can even indulge in ice cream and pizza now and then as long as your carb base is solid.
Eating only unprocessed carbs with a lot of fiber on a calorie surplus can make getting enough food down a challenge and make your stomach protest.
The time around your workouts are particularly well suited for eating carbohydrates.
- Pre-exercise carbs can improve performance, especially if your training sessions last longer than 45 minutes.
- Post-exercise carbs help you recover from the hard work. That’s when your muscles are most receptive to carbohydrates and will replenish their glycogen stores the fastest.
Figuring out how many carbs to eat is easy.
When you’re done assigning your protein and fat calories, the remainder of your daily calories are carb calories.
Remember that you had 1,580 calories left after calculating your protein and fat intake?
In other words, your daily carb intake lands around 400 grams (1,580 / 4 = 995). That gives you plenty of room to include whatever foods you enjoy and provide your body with the fuel for high-intensity workouts.
In this example, your macros end up like this:
- Calories: 3,300
- Protein: 180 grams
- Fat: 110 grams
- Carbs: 400 grams
How to Bulk: The Training
What and how much you eat is essential for a successful bulk.
However, you can’t sit on your butt, pound the calories, and expect your muscles to grow. Sure, it’ll add bulk to your body, but it won’t be muscle.
A well-executed bulk requires you to hit the weights. High-intensity strength training, along with plenty of good food and enough rest and recovery, is the way to add quality mass to your frame.
The Best Training Program for Bulking
Unfortunately, there is no “best” program for bulking.
Fortunately, however, all good training programs for building muscle will work perfectly. It’s mostly a matter of choosing a workout routine you enjoy that fits your fitness level and training experience.
We have put together a comprehensive list of 15 fantastic training programs for anyone from beginners to advanced bodybuilders to help you pack on the mass:
All of these are available in our workout tracker StrengthLog, which you can download 100% free for your device:
If you’re unsure what kind of routine you want, a four-day upper/lower training split is a good option.
- It allows for a combination of mass-building compound exercises and isolation movements.
- You hit your muscles twice per week and still allow for plenty of recovery for optimal growth.
- It’s easy to track your progress and see your gains in real time.
Here are some training tips to help you maximize your muscle growth during a bulk:
- Allow at least 48 hours of rest between training sessions for each muscle group.
- Use a variety of rep ranges (e.g., 8–12 reps, 5–8 reps, 3–5 reps) to challenge your muscles in different ways.
- Gradually increase the weight you lift over time.
- Listen to your body and take breaks when you need them.
The Best Exercises for Bulking
Compound movements should form the foundation of your bulking workout routine when you’re looking to get big and strong.
- Compound exercises stimulate more muscle fibers than isolation exercises, which leads to greater muscle growth with fewer exercises. For example, a squat works the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles all at once, while a leg extension machine only works the quads.
- When you become stronger in compound exercises, you also become stronger in other exercises, even those that only work a single muscle group. And in general, a stronger muscle is also a bigger muscle.
- Compound movements work multiple muscle groups at the same time. You can spend less time in the gym and still get the same results.
That being said, the best training programs for muscle gain include both compound (multi-joint) and isolation (single-joint) exercises. They complement each other, and current research suggests benefits from combining them in your workouts.6
Here are examples of some of the best compound exercises for bulking:
The squat is often called the king of all exercises for good reasons.
It is very effective for stimulating growth in large muscle groups like your quadriceps and your glutes, builds functional strength like few other exercises, and promotes the release of anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.
If you’re looking for lower body strength, power, and muscle size, look no further than the squat!
- Place the bar on your upper back. Inhale and brace your core slightly, and unrack the bar.
- Take two steps back, and adjust your foot position.
- Squat as deep as possible with good technique.
- With control, stop and reverse the movement, extending your hips and legs again.
- Exhale on the way up or exchange air in the top position.
- Inhale and repeat for reps.
The deadlift forces you to use almost every muscle in your body to lift the bar from the floor. It effectively strengthens your posterior chain – the muscles on the back of your body – and builds muscle in your legs and your upper and lower back.
A deadlift workout is taxing, but the effort is well worth it.
- Step up close to the bar so that it is about over the middle of your foot.
- Inhale, lean forward, and grip the bar.
- Hold your breath, brace your core slightly, and lift the bar.
- Pull the bar close to your body, with a straight back, until you are standing straight.
- Lower the bar back to the ground with control.
- Take another breath, and repeat for reps.
The most popular exercise in the world is also one of the best: the bench press targets your chest, shoulders, and triceps and is unbeatable for adding lean mass to your pushing muscles.
- Lie on a bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
- Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
- Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
- Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
- Take another breath while in the top position, and repeat for reps.
The overhead press is another compound movement for your pushing muscles, emphasizing your shoulders instead of your chest. Overhead presses excel in adding muscle to your front and side delts.
You can use a barbell or a pair of dumbbells, although the barbell allows you to use heavier weights.
- Place a barbell in a rack at about chest height.
- Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and step close to it.
- Inhale, lightly brace your core, and unrack the bar.
- Let the bar rest against your front delts while you step back from the rack.
- Press the bar up to straight arms while exhaling.
- Inhale at the top or while lowering the bar with control back to your shoulders.
- Repeat for reps.
If you want a thick back, you have to row. The barbell row is a terrific back builder that allows you to overload your lats and traps for maximum strength and muscle gains.
You can also use a dumbbell, a machine, or a cable pulley, but the barbell row is the classic way to row your way to a massive back.
- Grip the bar with an overhand grip.
- Lean forward with the bar hanging from straight arms.
- Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
- Pull the bar as high as you can so that it touches your abs or chest, if possible.
- With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.
The pull-up’s track record speaks for itself. Bodybuilders have used it for developing a wide back for more than a century, and it remains a staple in many back-building routines for one simple reason: it works, and it works very well.
If you are new to pull-ups, you might struggle to do more than a few reps, but there are a few things you can do to make them easier:
- Use an assisted pull-up machine to lift some of your body weight.
- Use a resistance band. To do a pull-up with a resistance band, loop the band over the pull-up bar and stand on the other end of the band. The band reduces the weight you have to lift and makes it easier to do a pull-up.
- Do lat pulldowns instead. It’s a worthy substitute.
- Grip the bar with palms facing away from you, slightly wider than shoulder-width.
- Keep your chest up, and look up at the bar.
- Inhale and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar or the bar touches your upper chest.
- Exhale and lower yourself with control until your arms are fully extended.
Lunges are an excellent bulking exercise because they help to add mass to some of the largest muscles in your body, including your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
In addition, lunges are a unilateral exercise, which means they work one leg at a time. Including unilateral exercises in your workout routine can help correct muscle imbalances and improve your balance and coordination. A nice bonus, even if it’s not bulking-specific.
You can use a barbell or a pair of dumbbells. Both exercises are equally effective.
- Take a big step forward and sink as deep as possible in a lunge position, without hitting the knee of the back leg in the floor.
- Return to the starting position by pushing yourself back with the front leg.
A lot of people call dips “the squat for the upper body,” and they aren’t wrong. Few exercises are more effective for hitting your pecs, shoulders, and triceps in one movement.
You can adjust the angle of your body to hit your chest or triceps more. Lean forward to target your pecs, and hold your body more upright with your arms tucked to your sides for more triceps action.
- Grip a dip station about shoulder-width apart, and climb or jump to get into the starting position.
- Lower yourself with control until your shoulder is below your elbow, or as deep as you comfortably can.
- Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.
Of course, these are just a few examples of some of the best bulking exercises at your disposal. However, you can’t go wrong with including them in your workouts or even basing your entire training routine on them.
How to Bulk: The Importance of Rest and Recovery
Rest and recovery are essential for muscle growth. Your muscles don’t actually grow during a workout but in the hours and days afterward. Provided you give them enough nutrients and rest, that is.
To guarantee the success of your bulk, you want to give your body and muscles ample opportunity to recover from your intense workouts and come back a little bigger and stronger from each session.
Adequate rest and recovery
- …allows your muscles to repair themselves. Lifting weights damages your muscle fiber. That might sound scary, but it is a part of building muscle. When you rest, your body sends satellite cells out to repair this damage and strengthen your muscles.
- …replenishes your glycogen stores. Glycogen is your body’s primary energy source during high-intensity exercise like resistance training. Your workouts deplete these stores, and rest gives your body time to replenish them so that you have enough energy for your next session.
- …allows your central nervous system to recover. The central nervous system (CNS) controls your muscles and movements. When you train, you put a lot of stress on your CNS. Rest gives it time to recover so that you can perform your best during your next workout.
Get Enough Sleep
Most adults need around 7–8 hours of sleep per night, and you might need even more when trying to maximize muscle growth. Sleep is when your body repairs and rebuilds tissues, including your muscles. Also, when you sleep, your body releases hormones that aid your muscle-building efforts.
If you have trouble sleeping, establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and blue light before bed.
Take Test Days
A rest day will give your body time to recover and prevent injury. A well-designed training program takes care of the rest day planning for you, but if you create your own from scratch, include at least one rest day per week.
Use Active Recovery
Active recovery involves doing light physical activity on your rest days. It improves blood flow and removes waste products from your muscles.
Go for a walk, a swim, take a yoga class, or something else you enjoy. Keep your heart rate at 30–60% of your maximum heart rate or where you’re able to keep a conversation going without panting.
How to Bulk: Supplements
Let’s get one thing straight: you don’t need any supplements for a successful bulk.
Plenty of whole foods, putting in the work in the gym, and getting enough rest and recovery are all you need to pack on pound after pound of muscle.
That being said, select supplements can help you reach your goals faster and, in some cases, give you additional benefits.
For example, if you don’t have a big appetite, simply getting the amount of calories you need can be challenging. In such cases, the right supplement can be a lifesaver.
Let’s take a closer look at the best dietary supplements to support your bulk.
Creatine is a natural substance found in your muscles. It helps your muscles produce energy during high-intensity exercise like strength training.
Creatine is one of the few supplements that can give you results you can’t get from food.
Your body makes creatine on its own, but not enough for your bulk to benefit from it. Fortunately, you can also get it from food, such as red meat and seafood, and supplements.
Creatine allows you to lift heavier weights and do more reps, which can lead to muscle growth. It also helps increase muscle cell hydration, pulling water into your muscles and making them look fuller and bigger.
How to Use Creatine
There are two main ways to use creatine: loading and maintenance.
Loading: In the loading phase, you take a higher dose for a few days to saturate your muscles with creatine. To do this, take 5 grams of creatine four times a day for 5–7 days.
Maintenance: Once your muscles are saturated with creatine, you can switch to a maintenance dose. This is typically 3–5 grams of creatine per day, although if you are a big man, you can take up to 10 grams daily. You can take your creatine all at once or spread it out throughout the day.
You can also skip the loading phase and go directly to maintenance if you prefer. Filling your muscles with creatine will take a little longer, but the results are the same.
Safety of Creatine
Creatine is safe with no known harmful side effects.7 Some people experience an upset tummy when they use creatine, which can be annoying but not dangerous. Taking your creatine with food or splitting it into smaller doses throughout the day can help minimize the problem.
#2 Weight Gainers
Weight gainer shakes are designed to help people gain weight and muscle mass. They are basically a very calorie-dense food in powdered form.
- Weight gainer shakes typically contain enough protein to maximally boost muscle protein synthesis and can help you reach your daily protein needs.
- Weight gainers also contain a high amount of carbohydrates, which can help you fuel your workouts and recover from them more quickly.
Some weight gainer shakes may also contain other ingredients, such as creatine, glutamine, and BCAAs (most of which are useless fluff, by the way).
Weight gainers can help you achieve a calorie surplus by providing you with a many calories in a single serving. However, they do nothing that eating the same number of calories from regular foods won’t do.
The benefit of weight gainers lies in the convenience and palatability of liquid nutrition.
Consistently eating more calories than your burn can be a challenge for a lot of people. Stuffing yourself when you aren’t hungry gets old really fast, and that chicken breast starts to feel like a rubber sole in your mouth.
That’s when weight gainers can help: drinking your calories is much easier and quicker than eating them.
How Much Weight Gainer Shake Should You Drink?
The amount of weight gainer shake you should drink depends on your individual needs and goals.
- If you are trying to gain weight and muscle mass and struggling to get enough calories from regular foods, you may need to drink two or three shakes per day.
- If you have no real trouble eating enough but enjoy the convenience of a shake now and then, you may only need to drink one per day.
- If you prefer “real food” and don’t struggle to eat enough, you don’t need any weight gainer shakes at all.
How to Choose the Best Weight Gainer
- Look for a weight gainer shake with high-quality ingredients like whey protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
- It should contains at least 25 grams of protein per serving.
- It should contains a high amount of complex carbohydrates (oats, sweet potatoes, and brown rice, for example). Avoids ones loaded with pure sugar.
- Choose a weight gainer shake that you enjoy the taste of. Not having to hold your nose while drinking makes you more likely to stick to your weight gain plan.
#3 Protein Powder
Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein like whey, casein, soy, pea, and rice. While no more of less effective for building muscle than the same amount of “real food,” they are a convenient way to increase your protein intake, especially if you find it hard to get enough protein from your regular diet.
- Whey protein is the most popular type of protein powder for building muscle. It is fast-digesting and contains plenty of branched-chain amino acids, (BCAAs), which are essential for muscle growth.
- Casein protein is a slow-digesting protein that keeps your blood amino acid levels elevated for more extended periods of time. Many bodybuilders take a casein shake before bed to build muscle throughout the night.
- Plant-based protein powders are a good option if you are lactose intolerant or follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. Common plant-based alternatives include soy protein, pea protein, and rice protein. Plant-based proteins can be as effective for building muscle, but you might need to take a little more (30 grams instead of 20) to get the same muscle-building effect.
How to Use Protein Powder
Protein powder can be mixed with water, milk, or juice to make a shake. You can also add it to smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal.
- The most common way to drink a protein shake is after a workout when your muscles are most receptive to amino acids.
- You can also mix up a shake or two throughout the day to help you meet your daily protein target.
There are no rules for when to gulp down a protein shake; it’s just regular food protein in powdered form, and you don’t have to treat it with any particular kind of respect.
A typical dose of protein powder is 20–30 grams. That’s the amount of high-quality protein you need to maximize muscle protein synthesis. However, there is no harm in taking more. In fact, if you drink a shake before going to bed, you want to up the dose to 40 grams to ensure your muscles benefit from it throughout the night.
#4 Vitamins & Minerals
On a calorie surplus, you usually get the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) you need from your regular diet, especially if you focus on whole foods.
That said, some micronutrients may help with performance and muscle gain. A supplement can fill any gaps and ensure you get the necessary nutrients to support muscle growth and recovery.
- Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for muscle function. There are few good dietary sources, and while you can get vitamin D from sunlight exposure, many people need more, especially during the winter months.
- B vitamins are essential for energy production and metabolism. They also play a role in muscle protein synthesis.
- Zinc supports muscle growth and repair. It also helps to boost the immune system.
- Magnesium is important for muscle function and recovery. It also helps to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Magnesium works together with both vitamin D and zinc.
Of these, vitamin D is the only one that everyone should consider supplementing. Vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent, with half the US population not getting enough.8
Also, studies show a trend for improved muscle strength with vitamin D supplementation.9
If you don’t eat a lot of animal-based foods, you should take a B12 supplement as that vitamin is not found in plant-based ones.
How Much Vitamins and Minerals Should You Take?
The recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals for bulking may vary depending on individual factors like your age, sex, training intensity, and diet.
However, here are some general guidelines:
- Vitamin D: 2,000–4,000 IU
- Vitamin C: 200–400 mg
- B-complex vitamins: 100% of the recommended daily intake
- Magnesium: 400–600 mg
- Zinc: 15–30 mg
These are all safe doses and ensure you’re not missing out on any micronutrients that can aid your gains during the bulk.
If you take a multivitamin supplement, choose one without excessive amounts of any one vitamin or mineral. More is not necessarily better. On the contrary, very high doses of vitamins C and E can impair your training results.10 Long-term overdosing on some micronutrients can be bad for your health.
Caffeine is a stimulant that improves physical performance by increasing alertness, reducing fatigue, and improving muscle function.
It doesn’t directly build muscle, but improved performance in the weight room does.
- Caffeine can help you feel more energized and alert during workouts, leading to better performance and more productive training sessions.
- It can help reduce fatigue during workouts, allowing you to push yourself harder and longer.
- Caffeine can improve muscle function by increasing strength and power, helping you lift heavier weights and perform more repetitions.
How Much Caffeine Should You Take?
The recommended dose of caffeine for bodybuilders is 3–6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, taken around 60 minutes before a workout.
You can consume caffeine in various forms, all equally effective, including coffee, energy drinks, and caffeine supplements.
Safety of Caffeine
In moderation, caffeine is generally safe for most people, but it can have side effects, such as anxiety, insomnia, and headaches.
You should start with a low dose of caffeine and gradually increase the dosage until you find the amount that works best for you.
It is also important to avoid consuming caffeine too close to bedtime, as this can interfere with sleep.
Supplements That Are a Waste of Your Money
Some supplements are helpful for building muscle, boosting your performance, or improving your overall health. Like the ones above. Others are, at best, money down the drain.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Highly promoted by the supplement industry as almost a miracle supplement for building muscle and enhancing recovery, BCAAs are almost worthless whether you’re bulking or cutting.
The BCAAs (leucine, valine, and isoleucine) are three of the essential amino acids found in all protein foods you eat. Your body can’t build muscle without them, but taking only those three amino acids in supplement form does almost nothing.11 12
Fortunately, all high-quality protein sources like eggs and whey protein provide all the BCAAs your muscles need and the other essential aminos necessary to actually make something happen.
BCAAs can help reduce muscle soreness, but that’s about it.
A decade or so ago, glutamine was just as hyped up as BCAAs are today.
What do they have in common? Answer: they are all amino acids and are almost entirely useless as supplements.
Any claims that glutamine helps you build muscle, recover faster, or maintain a healthy immune system have been debunked many times in scientific studies.13
All the protein you eat already comes loaded with glutamine, and your body can make it when it needs it.
While it is true that testosterone is the hormone linked to strength and muscle growth, natural testo boosters do not boost much of anything.
Most ingredients in testosterone boosters lack scientific evidence of their effectiveness, and those that do are often dosed too low for anything to happen.14
The sad truth is that natural testo boosters don’t do much of anything for your performance, strength, and muscle gains.
If you find one that does work, it might be because they contain illegal substances, which is more common than you might think.15
How Long Should You Bulk?
The ideal length of a bulking phase will vary depending on your individual training experience, genetics, body type, and goals.
However, you want to bulk for at least 3-4 months, if not longer, for best results. That timeframe gives your body enough time to build significant muscle mass without gaining too much fat (provided you’re doing it the sensible way, without a dirty bulk).
Typically, there is no benefit to letting your body fat levels get out of hand.
- For men, 18–20% body fat is a general guideline where the drawbacks of bulking further start to outweigh the benefits.
- Add 8–10% for women, meaning 28–30% body fat is a typical cut-off point for a bulk.
When you can no longer see your abs (for men), you’ve taken your bulk too far, at least for bodybuilding purposes.
After that, it’s time to stop bulking and start eating less food again to cut (lose fat) or maintain. It becomes more difficult to build muscle while you have a lot of body fat, and your hormone balance shifts to support further fat gain instead of muscle gain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s wrap things up with a little FAQ!
How Can I Track My Progress During My Bulking Phase?
You have many tools at your disposal to track your progress: measurements, progress photos, strength gains in the gym, and the scale, to mention a few.
A great and easy way to know you’re on the right track is to log your training sessions and try to beat your last workout. Our workout log StrengthLog is 100% free and offers all the tools you need to ensure you’re on track to your bulking goals.
What Are the Potential Downsides or Risks of Bulking?
In general, there are no harmful side effects to bulking.
You will inevitably gain some body fat during your bulk, but if you monitor your progress and make adjustments as needed, you can easily keep it under control.
Extreme long-term excessive overeating will cause most health markers to decline, but that’s not what bulking is about. A good bulk is about gaining as much lean mass as possible while keeping fat gains in check.
Some people may experience digestive issues from eating more food than their bodies really want. You can mitigate issues like that by eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of loading up on a few hefty ones and ensuring you’re not overeating dietary fiber.
Can You Bulk on a Vegan Diet?
Yes, it is possible to bulk on a vegan diet. A 100% plant-based diet can be just as effective as an omnivorous (a diet that provides nutrition from both animals and plants).16
The two main things you need to consider are your protein intake and making sure you eat enough calories, which can be tricky on a vegan bulk.
Your body does not absorb and use protein from plant-based sources quite as well as from animal-based. Because of that, you want to increase your protein intake by 25% if you only eat plant-based foods to give you as many muscle-building amino acids as someone who eats meat and eggs.
Some examples of great plant-based protein sources:
- Vegan protein powder
You must also make sure to eat enough. Many plant-based foods are less calorie-dense than animal foods, which can be a benefit in many cases, but not when you’re trying to put on weight.
Foods like nuts and nut butters, oils, grains, avocado, and dried fruit pack a hefty caloric punch and can help you get the energy you need without stuffing yourself.
Can You Bulk On a Ketogenic Diet?
Yes, you can bulk up and build muscle on a ketogenic diet as long as you get enough calories and protein.
Eating enough is the only issue with the ketogenic diet when on a bulk. It is known as an effective weight-loss diet primarily because you don’t feel as hungry and automatically eat less.
Most people who struggle to gain weight and muscle on keto don’t eat enough because their diet is so filling.
Because you eat almost no carbs on keto, your muscles can’t depend on glycogen to fuel workouts. Fortunately, your body adapts to a low-carb diet, and after a few weeks, it’ll have learned to use fat and ketones instead.
Can Women Benefit from Bulking?
Absolutely. Men and women build muscle through the same physiological mechanisms, and both benefit from a caloric surplus when trying to add muscle mass.
You might be surprised to learn that females build muscle at the same rate as men. But to do so, they need to follow the same principles: hit the weights, get enough rest, and give their bodies the energy and nutrients they need. Sounds like a bulk, right?
Everything in this bulking guide applies to both males and females.
What Should I Do After My Bulk?
When you’ve reached your muscle gain goals or are uncomfortable with how much body fat you’ve gained, it’s time to stop bulking.
At that point, you can either scale back on your calorie intake to a maintenance level or start a cut.
“Maingaining” – building muscle while eating at or near your maintenance calorie intake – takes more time but is quite doable.
- The drawback is that it is slower as you don’t have the additional anabolic boost of a caloric surplus.
- On the plus side, 100% of your gains will be pure muscle.
Cutting is when you reduce – cut – your body fat by eating fewer calories than you burn: a calorie deficit. You still hit the weights as hard as ever, but the focus is more on eliminating muscle loss than gaining pounds of muscle.
While increasing your lean mass on a cut is possible, it’s significantly more challenging unless you are overweight (not just bulked up, but overweight) or a beginner to lifting.
Should I Do Cardio During My Bulk?
If you are able to maintain a calorie surplus while still doing cardio, go right ahead.
It is still a good idea to limit the amount of cardio you do to 30-45 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio 3–4 times per week. Even if you have no trouble eating enough, doing too much cardio can cut into your ability to recover.
On the other hand, if you’re struggling to put on weight, adding excessive cardio to your bulking routine makes it even harder.
Some cardio is always a good thing for health reasons, but limit it to no more than 20–30 minutes of low-to medium-intensity cardio 2–3 times per week. That’s enough to maintain your cardiovascular health without burning too many calories.
Summary and Final Words
And that’s how to bulk! Let’s summarize!
- Bulking starts with eating more calories than your body burns in a day. This extra energy is necessary for muscle growth.
- Getting enough protein is a crucial part of both bulking and building muscle in general. Protein helps repair and build muscles. Aim for at least 1.2–2 g/kg (0.5–0.9 g/pound) per day.
- Don’t just focus on protein. Protein is essential, but you also need carbs and healthy fats for energy, health, and muscle-building hormones.
- Gradually increase the weights or intensity in your workouts to challenge your muscles and force them to grow. Progressive overload is a key factor for building muscle. Always strive to do one more rep or to lift a little heavier than last workout.
- Your muscles need time to recover and grow. Get enough sleep and ensure you take rest days to recover adequately. Overtraining is the bane of your gains.
- Be consistent. Muscle gain takes time, even when bulking. Be patient and stick to your plan.
- Keep track of your gains, both in terms of strength and muscle size. If you’re not gaining weight, add food to your plate. If you’re gaining more fat than muscle, you’re likely eating too many calories than your bulk really calls for.
Bulking up isn’t complicated. Eat right, lift weights, rest well, and be patient. The gains will come!
- Dictionary.com: Bulk
- ACSM Information on Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance.
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Volume 14, Article number: 20 (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise.
- J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018; 15: 10. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution.
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- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2017; 14: 18. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine.
- Nutrition Research, Volume 31, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 48-54. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: February 2017 – Volume 31 – Issue 2 – p 566-574. Effects of Vitamin D Supplementation on Muscle Strength in Athletes: A Systematic Review.
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- Clin Nutr. 2019 Jun;38(3):1076-1091. The effect of glutamine supplementation on athletic performance, body composition, and immune function: A systematic review and a meta-analysis of clinical trials.
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- Sports Medicine volume 51, pages 1317–1330 (2021). High-Protein Plant-Based Diet Versus a Protein-Matched Omnivorous Diet to Support Resistance Training Adaptations: A Comparison Between Habitual Vegans and Omnivores.