How to Lean Bulk
Most of us are familiar with bulking. Whether you’ve been cramming down meal after meal of chicken and rice, or drinking mass gainer shakes like they’re going out of fashion – everyone who heads to the gym has experimented with a bulk in order to pack on mass.
The problems start when you begin to build body fat as well as muscle. A ‘dirty’ bulk is not healthy, but many bodybuilders might experiment with one to gain mass at any cost. Following this, they’ll have to perform a tough cutting cycle.
Lean bulking is a far more efficient way to try and build muscle mass. By focusing on building muscle without fat, you may see slightly slower results but you won’t need to go through a tough cut. Here are our top 10 hacks to aid your lean bulk transformation.
Eat at a caloric surplus but avoid excess fat
When your caloric surplus is too large and contains too many carbohydrates and fats, you’ll put on body fat. To maintain a lean bulk, you’ll need to eat at a calorie surplus that consists of extra protein and wholegrains, without containing too much fat. Aim for 20% of your intake coming from good fat as a maximum. Completely cut out saturated fats.
Consume protein with every meal
Protein is the main nutrient you need when building muscle. It helps support the body’s ability to grow and is not as easily stored as fat as carbs or fats are. With that in mind, add a protein source to every meal and aim for 1.5-2g per kg of bodyweight.
Perform light cardio during every session
Too much heavy cardio can cause catabolism and prevent you building muscle, which is counteractive to a bulk. Instead, you should be performing light cardio as a warm-up before each weight session. This will help promote cardiovascular fitness and, if you hit the weights hard enough, will help shed body fat.
For more information on cardio during bulking, read our article.
Add nuts and nut butters to your diet
Calorie rich and full of protein, nuts are a great way to up your caloric intake. Adding nuts to your diet is simpler than you’d think. Having nut butter on your usual snacks can add protein and calories to all your main meal timings. Peanut butter on a sliced apple, peanut butter on your toast or cashew butter on a bagel will all add to your protein intake.
Alternatively, buy a few bags of nuts and then mix them together in small trail mix bags. Just a handful of almonds, peanuts and cashews can be calorie-dense – so avoid too many as they also contain lots of healthy fat. When it comes to bulking, nuts are a nigh-on unbeatable way to add calories without having to sit and consume a whole meal.
Perform compound lifts over isolations
Compound lifts are far better for building mass, thanks to the recruitment of multiple muscle groups that cause an increase in hormone secretion. Focus on heavier reps and ensure you are performing deadlifts, squats, overhead press and bench press (or alternatives) in your routine.
Use carb timings to maximize workouts
The better your workouts, the more muscle you’ll build. Pre-training, opt for veg and starchy carbs that offer a slow release of energy. Post-training, it is important to consume higher glycemic index carbohydrates.
Get plenty of rest
This isn’t a ‘hack’ as much as it is a necessity. Overtraining causes catabolism, which prevents muscle growth. If you’re trying to lean bulk, you’re probably trying to pack on mass by throwing yourself into hard training. Make sure you get plenty of rest and don’t be afraid of reducing the volume of your workouts. 3 or 4 days of training per week will be enough to build mass if you’re eating well and performing compound lifts.
Understand your limitations
In line with getting plenty of rest, an athlete also needs to understand what they should expect from their bulk, so they don’t over or under compensate. Gaining actual lean muscle mass is tough, and most people can expect a max of around 2.5lb/1.1kg of lean muscle mass per month. For more experienced lifters who already carry significant musculature, this can fall to as little as 3-4lb/1.3-1.8kg per year.
Manage your expectations. You’re not doing a dirty bulk; you’re aiming for a lean bulk transformation. It will be tougher than piling on body fat but ultimately yield better results.
Create healthy cheat meals
When you’re on any kind of diet, bulking or cutting, you’ll be restricting the foods you eat. On a lean bulk, you can’t just pile junk food into your body or you’ll fail. Most diets allow a cheat meal once per week – but on a bulk you can use the extra calories to enjoy ‘cheat’ style meals more often.
However, this isn’t an excuse to eat pizza and curry as you’d get it from a takeaway. Instead, create healthy versions such as low fat curries, healthy pizzas made with wholewheat and burritos full of veg. When you’re ordering a takeaway, try to choose healthier options. This will help keep you motivated as you bulk.