Usually, after the summer passes and the weather starts getting colder, many of people go into bulking mode. Their logic is: since no one can see my muscles beneath these baggy clothes, I might as well eat a bit more, even junk food.
No one will notice. Besides, isn’t getting enough calories and putting some fat needed in order to build muscle? No, actually that is plain wrong.
The hard truth is that putting too much fat on you will not only not help you in gaining more muscle, on the contrary, it can work against building muscle in the long-term.
We already assume that your goal is to achieve an athletic and lean body which will be aesthetically pleasing, so the fat will sooner or later need to be burned off.
That is why wasting your energy and time accumulating in the first place is pure nonsense. In fact, the higher your body fat levels, the longer the cutting process.
Additionally, prolonged cutting diets also increase the likelihood that besides losing the fat you will also lose a certain amount of your hard-earned muscle.
Dirty bulking might look like fun at first, what with all the junk foods you’ll be eating, but you’ll soon come to regret it once you’ve put too much of it and can’t stand to look at yourself in the mirror.
So, the big question is: how do I stay lean while building muscle? It’s not very hard actually, but it will require some planning, thinking it through and constant daily discipline which is much harder than eating that would give you pleasure at that moment.
First things first: doing the diet math
Just because you are gaining muscle mass doesn’t mean you have to acquire a belly with it. Although avoiding a small amount of fat is impossible, as well as adding pure lean tissue, if you eat smart, you can add as much lean muscle tissue as possible while also adding as little fat as possible.
Now, let’s delve into some simple math to help you better understand why that is. Let’s imagine that when you first began working out you weighed 150lbs with 15% body fat.
Suppose you gained 25lbs of pure muscle, you would be weighing 175lbs and have around 13% body fat. If you added plus 25lbs of lean muscle, you would weigh 200lbs with 11% body fat.
While it is possible to make that drastic transformation over time, you cannot do it all at once. That’s because as we said earlier no one can gain just muscle, there’s always going to be some amount of fat gained, even if very small. The main question is how much exactly.
Let’s suppose you added 22lbs of lean muscle mass with 3lbs of body fat, using the same starting point as before. That would result in you weighing 175lbs and having around 15% body fat. Even though you accumulated some amount of fat, you would still be somewhat leaner than before.
Depending on what your goals are and your specific genetics there is a possibility that you may have to gain a bigger fat amount than the example above, however, the point is still relevant: you can still be relatively lean since you are always adding more muscle tissue than fat.
Once again, gaining muscle doesn’t have to be accompanied by a belly.
Start it right
The most important part of bulking clean is starting out at fairly lean body measurements. Since fat gain will be inevitable down the line, it is of utmost importance that you start out as lean as possible so that you can make the necessary calorie adjustments should it be required.
If you already have some extra weight, there’s no reason to keep putting more. Additionally, if you start the bulking process with extra fat, it won’t be long until you need to start cutting back on calories and go on a cutting diet altogether.
Carrying high body fat levels can actually be counterproductive to gaining muscle and can make you even fatter. Having big deposits of fat releases hormones that will screw with how your body partitions the ingested nutrients, which will increase the chances that any extra calories be stored into fat deposits.
When you start out relatively lean, your metabolism is much faster and will be starting out with a body that is geared towards building muscle, not accumulating fat.
Eat your carbs at the right time
Even though protein has been endlessly lauded as the most important muscle building macronutrient, there is no reason why you should deprive yourself of carbs which can be equally as anabolic as protein.
The tricky thing about them is that they can lead to both muscle tissue growth as well as increased fat deposits.
This is why it is vital that you learn to manipulate carb intake to elicit optimal muscle gain. The best way to do that is to find out the number of carbs you would need as an energy source during the workout and to speed up muscle gain.
The wisest thing to do would be to drink a protein shake with some fast carb like dextrose added after working out and eat the rest of the carbs in the first whole-food meal after working out. Ingest around half of the quality carbs with the meal before working out. Breakfast is often discussed in choosing its ingredients.
The majority of people won’t need to ingest carbs in the morning, except if breakfast is also their pre-workout meal. When you limit carb intake to the pre-workout and post-workout, and sometimes even intra-workout periods, you will maintain low insulin levels throughout the day.
Low levels of insulin mean that it will be less likely for your body to accumulate fat and more likely to burn off a small amount throughout the day.
That’s why, unless you are very skinny and are having a hard time ingesting the needed calories; the majority of your meals should be filled mostly with protein and fat.
Monitor your macronutrient intake
Everyone needs to consume a different ratio of macronutrients in order to optimize their muscle growth. That is why it is impossible to give a general recommendation about the daily amounts of protein, carbs, and fats you need to consume. It is also a priority that you must keep track of everything you eat during the day.
If gaining muscle mass with as little fat as possible is your main goal, consume a moderate surplus of calories daily. Even more important ensure that the surplus doesn’t come from the wrong nutrients. Plus, an extra 200 grams of fats or carbs has a much different effect on your body than 200 grams of protein.
Nowadays, there are many free apps measuring total calories and proteins, carbs and fats. This will help you significantly when you’ll need to make some tweaks to your diet later.
When you know the exact amount of calories you consume every day and the macronutrient ratio they come from, gaining muscle and losing fat become simple mathematical calculations. You shouldn’t buy into the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) fad either.
You can surely switch eating white rice instead of potatoes or whole-wheat bread instead of oatmeal, but you are mistaken if you think you can eat pizzas, burgers or ice cream whenever you want as long as they fit your daily carb count.
Weight loss and gain are not as simple as the theory “calories in, calories out” would like to have us believe. Fast food has a certain influence on the way your hormones work and will be counterproductive to getting the best results in building your physique.
Keep it slow, but steady
The good thing about this is that exact numbers will be the indicators of your progress and there’s no way to make a mistake about them. Strive to gain around 1-2 pounds a month. Anything over that is likely to be fat.
What is more important than gaining weight is how hard you train. Muscle gain should be parallel to gaining strength. If you keep increasing your body weight but aren’t hitting personal records then the simple truth is that you are just getting fatter.
As already said, if you start the bulking relatively lean and go for at least a year gaining lean muscle mass slowly, you will most certainly be amazed at what you have achieved.