In the bodybuilding world, winter means a time to bulk up. In layman’s term, it simply means eating more than what you can burn to gain more muscles and become bigger. Sounds like fun, right? But before you go all out binging on high-calorie unhealthy food, it is important to remember that bulking should be done properly or you may gain stubborn body fat instead.
If you are a newbie, chances are you’re unsure of how to start an effective programme that will help you pack lean muscles. But the most common questions are ‘how long should I bulk up?’ and ‘when do I know it’s time to stop?’
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But you have to be cautious because any drastic change on your weight is not good. It takes a toll on your body and may even damage your metabolic process.
Everyone has his own dream physique. But people are naturally impatient beings and would want to transform their bodies at the fastest time possible. I know of bodybuilders who literally eat all day during the bulking phase in hopes of hitting their target weight within two months.
Know Your Body Type
Go For Clean Bulking
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that bulking up is a reason to eat all you can or binge on donuts. Bulking cycle has gained quite a negative reputation for these reasons.
Sure, you can stack up on calories from fast food staples of half pound burgers and XL fries, but you end up gaining more fat than muscles and even risk your overall health.
Weight gainer supplements can also help as not everyone has the time or the appetite to consume the amount of food and frequency of eating necessary to have a caloric surplus.
Coupled with proper training and ample rest and recovery time (which is often taken for granted), it will help minimize your fat gain and maximize muscle growth instead.
Plus, ‘dirty bulkers’ will likely have more difficulty come the cutting season because of the drastic change in diet and training intensity.
What you want to aim for is to bulk up on good food: lean proteins like chicken and turkey breasts, tuna and egg white; complex carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa and sweet potatoes; and healthy fats like olive oil, natural peanut butter and flaxseed oil.
In essence, you will have to eat more to have a caloric surplus between 250-500, and more often so you will have a constant supply of energy and nutrients to help your body rebuild itself and in turn grow your muscles.
Striving for 6-8 small meals per day is ideal. A good rule of thumb is to eat 1-2 grams of protein per pound of your body weight spaced between 2-3 hours. Although you should prioritise high-quality food sources. If you’re struggling to meet your target you can get around 20 grams of protein from a whey protein shake
Look For The Cues To Stop
Ending your bulking phase is not set in stone as it is affected by several factors such how much you eat, how much rest you get and how hard you train. There are also your body’s unique characteristics such as your natural ability to assimilate carbohydrates compared to other body types.
However, a good indication is upon exceeding 10% of your body fat. Going higher than 12% may make it hard for you to lose the extra fats after ending your bulk phase.
You should also watch out for other cues such as when you start losing insulin sensitivity, a decrease in pump or when you notice your muscles feeling softer which are tell signs that winter is coming to an end.
Muscles Over Fats
While it is nearly impossible to increase calorie intake and expect to only gain 100% fat-free muscles, I cannot emphasize stronger on the importance of ensuring that you gain more muscles with the least amount of fat possible through proper diet. Scale weight has been the traditional metric to gauge bulk success, but it’s not foolproof.
You might have gained 30-40 pounds in a few months but how much of it are actually muscles? If you gain 1 pound of muscle for every 3 pounds of fat, you are still on the losing end.
You need to evaluate and adjust your diet until credible analyzers (such as skin calipers or smart fitness scale) show that you are actually gaining properly or are not simply breaking even.
Clean eating, proper training and ample recovery time as well as understanding your body are the core foundation of successful bulking. Following these will make your cutting phase or losing the fat you gained during the bulking cycle, a little less painful.
And to answer the million-dollar question ‘how long should I bulk up’, the answer is simple: your body knows best. It may take 3-5 months or more but it greatly depends on how advanced you are, your discipline and actual goals.
If you have any questions, don’t forget to leave your comments below. For now, pick up that steak and have a great time bulking!