How to 'bulk' clean and build muscle the right way

It's been two months now, since my first bikini competition and I'll finally start my 'bulk' - or as I like to call it - 'improvement'-season.

Many people think traditional bulking means to eat thousands of calories per day in form of all the naughty foods you're dreaming of during 'cutting'-season. That's the reason why many bodybuilders end up looking like a balloon in the off-season.

I don't want that and you're probably in the same boat! So let's go through this together, so we both don't end up as a balloon.

What is a 'bulk'?

Bulking is nothing more than adding more calories to your diet than your body burns. The main goal is to stay fairly lean while adding muscle mass and getting stronger.

How clean bulking works

Usually, you start a bulk after a cutting season, or if you just started lifting and you are a skinny individual.

Never transition from a cut into a bulk straightaway. It's better to reverse diet. First, increase your daily caloric intake for 100-150 calories every week. Once you reached your maintenance level stay there for about 2 weeks, then slowly increase your calories from there.

Don't go overboard with your calories right away

Eating too much right away is one of the most common mistakes and I get it - it's tempting! However, you will not gain more muscle mass, by eating way more than you need.

There is no difference between increasing your calories by 120% or 150%, when it comes to muscle gain. You'll only gain more body fat.

Calculate your caloric intake

To make it super simple for you we created a calculator. You can use it to estimate your base line and then increase your calories every other week by another 100-200 calories or so.

Macro distribution

Let's start with the protein calculation first, since it's the building block for muscles. Aim for 1g per pound bodyweight (2g per kg bodyweight) of protein. More protein will not lead to more muscle gain! Don't get fooled by articles that say you have to eat 500g per day. Nonsense.

Next, calculate your fat intake. Keep the fats constant at 25% of your total daily calories. Protein and fat stays the same during your whole bulking phase - you only adjust carbs as needed.

Fill the remaining calories with carbohydrates. Carbs are very important during a bulk, because they are the fuel for your heavy workouts. We need the energy we get from carbs to peak our performance in the gym and spike insulin after the workout.

Here's an example macronutrient breakdown for me, a 125 lbs (57kg) female.
  • Calculated calories for a surplus: 2200 kcal per day
  • Protein: 1 x 125 = 125g/500 kcal
  • Fat: 0.25 x 2200 kcal = 550 kcal/61g
  • Carbs: 2200 - 500 - 550 = 1150 kcal/288g

In case you're wondering: 1g of carbs and protein equals 4 kcal, 1g of fat is 9 kcal.

With your calculated caloric intake and your macro-distribution you should now be able to create your own meal plan.

Skip on junk

Of course, our bodies can't differentiate a calorie coming from junk food versus a calorie coming from whole foods. However, eating too much highly processed food will lead to nutrient deficiencies.

Vitamins and minerals are not "only healthy". Your body needs them to function properly. And building muscle is one of those functions. Skipping on veggies and whole foods will leave you with less progress!

So take care of your hormone levels, digestion, immune system and your skin appearance by eating mostly whole foods.

I like to follow the 80/20-approach. 80% of the diet comes from fresh, whole food and 20% from clean-ish or 'not-so-clean'-foods.

'Cheat' wisely

I'm a fan of occasionally treating myself, especially while cutting. But let's face the truth. During a bulk there is simply no physiological or psychological benefit from having a cheat meal or even a whole day. It'll just make you gain body fat faster.

This doesn't mean you can't enjoy a treat every once in a while. But do it wisely by saving up some calories for your treat or lift extra heavy the day after.

Listen to your body and adjust food intake if necessary

If you're a man, you're aiming to gain around 0.5 kg/1 lbs per week. As a woman it's slightly less - aim for 0.25 kg/0.5 lbs per week.

If you're gaining less than that - or worse, nothing - then you have to eat more. Add another 100 to 150 calories in form of carbs to your daily calories and see how your body responds over the next week.

Take the time

Quick fixes don't help anyone. Sustainable changes take time and don't happen over night. Be aware of that.

If you're new to weightlifting, you'll probably see faster results, especially in the beginning. But at some point you will stall and you need to be patient at this point and keep going.

Get out of your comfort zone in the gym

You're now in a caloric surplus, so your body has much more energy. Use it and go hard in the gym. Put on more plates, do some new exercises, try a new training split, squeeze your muscles - get out of your comfort zone! You have to progress every week. If you don't, you're not lifting hard enough or you're not eating enough. Or both.

Without proper training, all those extra calories are worthless! Your goal is to get stronger. Therefore, you have to move those weights!

How to measure your progress

It's very important to measure your progress, so you can decide whether you're on the right way or you have to adjust a few things to reach your target.

That's the point where three tools come into play: the scale, the calliper and the mirror.

The scale

If you're a lean bean, you should see an increase here. If the number doesn't increase, you either don't eat enough calories or don't work out hard enough.

The skin calliper

The calliper is used to measure your body fat percentage via your skin folds. Used together with the scale, you will get an idea of how much of your weight gain is actually body fat and how much is muscle mass.

The mirror

My favourite measuring tool. Nowadays, we're relying too much on numbers and forget about how we actually look.

The number on the scale won't tell you, if you get to see a new line on your leg, if your biceps got bigger or if you're actually starting to look better at all.

In the end, that should be your main goal. Because you don't diet and train to have a certain number on the scale. You do it because you want to look a certain way!

Good luck adding some size.

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