Hey guys! As you may know I am starting my first ever bulk! I’ve gotten a lot of questions around this so I figured I’d dive into everything with a blog post.
So first things first, what is a bulk? A bulk is basically when you eat in a caloric surplus (increase your macros) in order to build more muscle than you’re normally able to. Typically when you have your macros calculated you are either eating in a caloric deficit (cutting/aiming for fat loss), maintenance (not losing or gaining fat/just maintaining your current physique), or a caloric surplus (bulk/aiming for increased muscle gains). Now, when you’re eating in a caloric deficit for fat loss, you’re not really increasing your muscle mass. Instead, you’re losing the fat which is revealing more of your muscle tone. With maintenance macros, you’re not necessarily losing fat or gaining muscle. Granted, you’re still able to gain some muscle but not at the rate or degree as when you’re bulking. If you’re just starting to workout, making muscle gains in a maintenance phase is easier but after you’ve been working out for a while, you will eventually tap out and not be able to gain much more muscle. When you’re bulking, you are eating in a caloric surplus allowing your body to build more muscle than normal. Keep in mind, while you’re gaining this excess muscle you are also going to gain extra fat–that is just part of the process. But more on that later!
Okay, so why did I choose to do a bulk?
Well, a little background first. I have never done a true bulk before, but I have done some experimenting with my macros in order to gain more muscle. Last year for about 4 months, Paola (who calculates my macros) and I increased my carbs to 250 grams a day in order to help me build more muscle. Normally my carbs range anywhere from 160-190 depending on if I’m cutting or maintaining (I haven’t really done a true cut for about 2 years–now my cuts are more “mini cuts.” I’m not decreasing my carbs by a huge amount). So yeah, we increased my carbs to 250g so I could build more muscle in my legs and butt especially (my protein and fats stayed the same which you will see is different this time when I’m bulking). In this case, I was still doing two intense stair-master sessions each week in order to help burn fat–this time when I’m actually bulking, my cardio will be eliminated more or less. In addition to that cardio, I was doing 2 heavy leg sessions each week plus my normal arm/back/shoulder/ab workouts. So I was working out a lot each week in order to build muscle but keep my fat lower. Below is a progress photo that shows how I was looking several months into this routine–keep in mind the left was when I just started working out and was only doing cardio. But you can see how the increased carbs and weights help increase the muscle in my legs and butt especially.
Okay, so why am I doing a true bulk now as opposed to what I was doing above? To be honest for the last year I have really wanted to change the overall shape of my body more and put on more muscle. And I’ve obviously tried things to help with this (as shown above) but given my body type in order to put on the kind of muscle I want I need to be eating a lot more so my body can build it. By nature I am an ectomorph meaning I am naturally lean and it’s hard for me to put on weight (which is a blessing in it’s own way), BUT that also means it’s much harder for me to put on muscle. I mean, in order to look like I did above, my weight lifting routine was pretty intense, and I was spending 7-8 hours a week in the gym. For other people who build muscle more easily, they may be able to achieve the above with much less intensity.
The other reason is this. I feel like for a while now I’ve been fluctuating back and forth between my maintenance macros and my “cutting” (mini-cut) macros, and I don’t feel like my body responds to lower macros as well as it used to. When I first started counting macros, I was in a cutting phase (my calories were about 500 less than what I was used to eating) and ended up being very cut (IMO) as a result. But now when I do macros similar to those, my body loses fat at a slower pace. Now this could be do to several things–stress, less sleep, hormones, age, etc. The other possibility is this–when you have your macros on the lower end for a certain period of time (or if you’re continuing to diet for example), your body gets accustomed to those decreased calories and stops losing fat at a certain point. In order to then continue to lose fat, you have to decrease your macros/calories even more. And you can only do this for so long! Because you’ll reach a point where it’s not healthy to decease your calories any further. So like I said, I’m not sure what factors are contributing to my slower fat loss, but it’s just another reason that I am going to increase my overall calories and start bulking. At the end of the bulk, my maintenance calories (after I’m done cutting) will be higher than they are now. Why is this the case? Because the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at a resting state (your BMR). So when your BMR is higher you’re able to consume more calories at baseline. Whoo!
Let’s dive into the process of my bulk now–workouts and diet.
Regarding my macros, my fats will stay roughly the same (60g) but my carbs and protein will increase (carbs are usually the first thing that is decreased with cutting, but with a bulk the protein may increase to in order to help promote muscle growth). Regarding carbs–right now I am eating 160g of carbs a day but with the bulk my carbs will start at 264g. My protein will increase from ~120g to 150g. I won’t be increasing my macros gradually during this–there are some slow/lean bulks where you can gradually increase your macros but I’ll be increasing mine all at once. However, these are my macros I’ll start with and Paola said we will see how my body responds and how I feel, and then we can adjust some if need be. For my workouts, I’ll pretty much be eliminating cardio. I will probably still go to spin 2-3 times a month because I really love it, but overall my cardio will be pretty minimal. I’ll still be doing Paola’s Strong and Sexy Body Method 2 (which is intermediate to advanced weight training). This will consist of 2 leg days plus 1 day each of back & biceps/chest & triceps/shoulders & abs.
-How do you meal prep to hit your protein? Do you have snacks? Questions like this are very dependent on the individual. I typically don’t meal prep a ton but Stephen and I usually have 1-2 meats that we make at some point and will have for the next few days. I also eat a ton of yogurt and cheese so hitting my protein isn’t usually an issue. In terms of snacks, I’m a big snacker at baseline regardless of my macros so I’ll still be snacking in between meals (even more so because I have more food to eat through the day). I know some people like having 3 large meals through the day but I typically prefer smaller meals and snacks.
-How do you know when to increase weights? With bulking since you are aiming for muscle gains, I’ll probably aim to hit 8-12 reps with each set. So if I get to the point where it’s easy for me to go past 12 reps than I’d increase my weight.
-How long will your bulk be? Or is that more so decided on how your body is adjusting, etc? Both! We are aiming for my weight to gradually increase each week, and we will also do the bulk for at least 2 months to make sure we see results. So 2 months minimum, but it just then will depend on how my body is responding, if the macros need to be adjusted, etc.
-When bulking how do you find the balance of consuming more calories that meet your fat and carb goals without gaining weight not associated with muscle? So the thing with bulking is that you are going to gain some fat in addition to the muscle. There really isn’t a way to prevent that if you’re doing a true bulk. Now, you can do what I did above, but again, I was only able to gain a certain amount of muscle while keeping my fat gain to a minimum. At the end of the day if you want to gain a substantial amount of muscle, you will most likely have to bulk which means you will gain some fat in the process to. (When your bulk is done, you do a cut to shed that fat loss and reveal that gained muscle).
-How do you bulk without putting on weight in the wrong way? This is kind of similar to the above question but IMO this is why macros are so important. Meaning that you are eating a specific amount to build excess muscle while still keeping your fat gain under control to a certain extent. The point of a bulk isn’t to just eat anything in site–by counting macros you are still going to put on fat but not as much if you’re just eating whatever you feel like. Your bulking macros are designed for optimal results. Hope this makes sense!
If you guys have any other questions leave them below and I’m happy to answer! xxC