Adopting a bulking diet works for gaining muscle, but there are a lot of ways it can go wrong. Here are the six big blunders to avoid.
Bulking is the process of intentionally gaining weight to maximize muscle growth. Some lifters adopt a bulking diet that mitigates fat gain; others end up butchering the process and regretting it.
But any lifter who’s already lean and experienced with weight training can have success with it. Without eating in a caloric surplus, you can’t add a significant amount of muscle unless you’re a beginner or overweight.
This is why many intermediate and experienced lifters plateau in their physique, especially if they’re pretty lean. Sure, they’ve kept some muscle from their newbie gains, and maybe they don’t have much body fat, but they also don’t really stand out that much.
If that’s you, and you actually DO want to stand out, it’s time to start bulking – the smart way. Bulking isn’t as easy as just eating more and lifting weights. Many people don’t know how to do it well, which is why there’s a belief that it doesn’t work. So here are the top six bulking mistakes to avoid.
The purpose of bulking is to gain weight. No surprise there. Of course, gaining too much too fast sucks, but you do need to gain it. I see people attempt bulks all the time, but because they don’t eat enough, they dork around at maintenance for months or years with no muscle growth to show.
Before you even worry about the optimal rate of gain, you need to make sure you gain in the first place. If you don’t, you’re not getting the muscle-building stimulus along with the extra nutrients from the energy surplus.
The culprit behind not eating enough is underestimating the difficulty of doing it right. Some people will need a caloric surplus that’s quite high, and for them pounding down more food consistently won’t be as fun as you might think.
They may have to use shakes, eat at awkward times, coax themselves to shovel down more at mealtime, and have more structure around their eating. It’s work, and it’s not as easy as “just eat more food.”
Now comes the other side of the food mistake. Some people eat too much when bulking. They view bulking as an excuse to eat tons of junk, ransack a buffet, and not monitor their calories.
This is stupidity at its finest. Research shows that while a calorie surplus increases muscle growth, you don’t need a big surplus to do so. In fact, your body can only build so much muscle at a time. With a slight surplus, you’ll already maximize muscle growth while incurring some tag-a-long fat.
However, if you eat beyond that, there’s no additional muscle growth. The extra calories are stored as fat. So don’t get softer than you have to by eating like an idiot. All that fat will cost you more time to lose later.
People commonly track calories to lose fat, but when they start bulking, they think tracking no longer applies. If you grew up reading bodybuilding magazines, you’d think the key to gaining mass is drinking gallons of milk and eating like Ronnie Coleman.
While that can be tempting, you need a more precise approach. So smart bulkers will track their calories and macros. This ensures you gain weight but aren’t gaining too fast.
The sweet spot is to have a 300-calorie surplus. If you gain around 1-1.5% of body weight each month, you’re on the right track. If you start to go past 2% each month on average, it’s best to reduce your calories a bit or else you’ll evolve into a fluffy powerlifter who looks like he drinks too much beer.
Bulking can cause some bloating and fluctuations in glycogen, so scale fluctuations can be even more volatile than cutting. This is why it’s so important to weigh in daily. The daily weigh-ins allow you to compare averages across the weeks to ensure you’re in the sweet spot for gaining.
Again, the last thing you want is to not gain or to be gaining too much unnecessary fluff. So weigh in daily and do some math each week. Aim for 0.25% to 0.5% weight gain per week on average.
Newbies might be able to get away with any type of resistance training and build muscle. But once they get past that beginner stage, they may realize they need to bulk and start doing it without proper hypertrophy-focused training.
The results? They get fat. Then they become the same dorks who say bulking doesn’t work. In reality, bulking always works if you train correctly. It comes down to getting stronger in higher rep ranges. One-rep maxes and training with super-low reps involve more neural adaptations. This is what you want to do if strength is your main goal. But banging out 8-15 rep maxes is what stimulates muscle. The good news? You should be getting violently stronger in those rep ranges with the extra food you’re eating. If you’re not, you’re not training hard enough, or you’re too lazy to track your progress.
But make no mistake: without progressive overload, you’re not stimulating muscle growth, which means those extra calories have no choice but to become fat tissue.
The people that say bulking doesn’t work are also those who bulk for three weeks and quit because they got a little too soft or tired of eating. But muscle growth is a painfully slow process for advanced natural lifters even when you do everything right.
The top natural bodybuilders are spending over half the year bulking. They do this year after year just to get a few pounds of muscle. This is why their physiques get better with each stage appearance. It’s work and takes extraordinary patience.
You won’t build much muscle with a two-week or two-month bulk. You’ll have to stay in a surplus for a few months to build momentum. We don’t have exact research on this, but there may be a unique anabolic signal that only comes with chronic surpluses, not acute ones. But ask anybody huge and they’ll always tell you they spent a prolonged time in a surplus to build muscle.
So once you nail everything down, the important thing is to keep going. Don’t end your bulk because your abs fade or because you have to eat so much food. These are luxury problems anyways.
Suffer a little bit now and have an epic physique later.