Traditional bulking is like rowing a boat with one oar. First, gain some muscle and balloon with fat. Then, attach a cutting phase—with low calories and lots of cardio—where you not only lose fat, but also lose your hard-earned muscle.
Worse, many bulks ignore good nutrition. “The biggest myth is that you can eat whatever you want when you’re bulking,” says Nate Miyaki, CSSN, CPT, fitness author and coach. Although you’ll gain weight and size with a loose diet, you’ll also get fat and compromise your health.
Break the cycle with the ultimate bulk—a clean bulk where you can build muscle without the fat. No more bulks and cuts, and no more bouncing between a six-pack and a one-pack. Best of all, it’s easier than you think.
This is where the clean bulk is won or lost. “Diet is 80% of fat loss and some form of training is the other 20%,” Miyaki explains. Keep it simple (silly) by following the principles on the following slides. It’s so straightforward you can’t go wrong.
“For the clean bulk, no matter what, you need to hit your calories,” Miyaki declares. “But you don’t need a huge calorie surplus to bulk. Instead, use a moderate surplus so you’re not gaining too much fat.”
Start with this rule of thumb to find your target number: 16 times your bodyweight in pounds. Once you find your calories, correctly distribute them.
“Start with the protein calculation first,” says Miyaki. Protein is the building block that drives your muscle growth; if you want to gain size, you need to eat the optimal amount. Target 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Then, calculate your fats. “Keep the fats constant at 25% of your calories,” Miyaki explains. “Protein and fat stays constant—it’s the carbs that go up or down.”
Thus, use carbohydrates to fill your remaining calories. “Emphasize carbs because that’s the fuel for anaerobic activity,” says Miyaki. It provides the energy for peak performance and acts as a buffer to prevent the body from burning protein as reserve fuel.
For example, here’s the macronutrient breakdown for a 180-pound male:
Calories: 16 x 180 = 2880 calories
Protein: 1 x 180 = 720 calories (180g of protein)
Fat: 0.25 x 2880 = 720 calories (80g of fat)
Carbs: 2880 – 720 – 720 = 1440 calories (360g of carbs)
Some bulks say that you can eat whatever you want as long as you hit your macronutrients. And while that sounds like Heaven on Earth, beware of those diets.
“If you care about health, you still have to make good food choices,” Miyaki cautions. “If you’re eating the right calories — whether it’s Pop-Tarts or rice—it might not matter in the short-term, but check back in a year from now, two years, or even ten. Things like insulin sensitivity, nutrient partitioning in the muscle cells, cholesterol levels, and overall health degrade over time.”
For your bulk (and your blood tests), feast on meat, veggies, healthy fats, and good starches like potatoes and rice. Also, avoid foods laced with refined oils. “You’ll end up in a higher calorie surplus than you need,” Miyaki explains, “because you don’t account for it in your food.”
Eat most of your carbs and calories at night. Miyaki explains that this approach boosts muscle growth in three ways:
First, feasting on good carbs, proteins, and fats at night maximizes your muscle-building hormones cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR).
Second, it calms your blood sugar and prevents insulin spikes and crashes. Now, you’ll avoid falling asleep in your mid-afternoon meetings. (Well… no guarantees.) And combined with an ass-kicking workout, it’ll boost your insulin sensitivity to optimize your fat burn throughout the day.
Third, it’s easy to follow. No more Tupperware parties at work or home. No more feeling bloated from morning to night. With this method, you can keep your big dinners with friends and family. The best diet is one you stick to.
Check your body fat and circumference measurements every few weeks to see if you clean bulked correctly. If you lost weight or stayed the same, carefully add more calories. If you gained extra fat, however, gently reduce your calories. This is how you pinpoint your clean bulk.
Still not bulking the way you want? Track your food intake for a month. “What often happens,” Miyaki explains, “is they’ll discover they’re not getting enough calories or protein.” Although Miyaki says that a food tracker is a poor tool in the long-term, in the short-term, it’s an eye-opener.
Slam a shake with some carbs and proteins after your workout — not to build muscle, but to stop muscle destruction. “After a workout, your body is in a depleted state,” Miyaki explains. “Your body will fuel the brain and get blood sugar somehow and one of the backup mechanisms is to breakdown protein and amino acids.”
By enjoying a post-workout drink, you’ll limit this process and your body will shift toward an anabolic (muscle-building) environment faster.
After your workout, your muscle-building window lasts 48 hours — that’s 2 entire days to wolf clean, nutritious foods and grow solid muscle without fat.
“Training sessions should always be geared towards building muscle because you can use diet for anything else,” says Miyaki. Leave fat-loss workouts like circuits, intervals, and complexes to the cutting phases; when clean bulking, focus on muscle.
If you want to add only size, focus on hypertrophy. “3 – 5 sets per exercise, 8 – 15 reps in that moderate range,” Miyaki explains. “If the goal is purely to put on muscle, that’s the best way to go.”
If you want only strength, lift heavy weights with low reps. That approach, however, limits your size gains because strength training relies on neural activities. “There are some guys who lift incredible amounts of weight who don’t ever look like they’ve touched a weight,” says Miyaki. “It’s about technique and activating motor units for one rep.”
Also, ditch cardio — that spawns from the traditional bulk mentality: if you explode your calorie intake, you need cardio (and a lot of it) to slow fat gains. Cardio, however, saps time, wrecks your recovery, and taxes your muscles. “You deplete any of your reserves with too much cardio on top of all the strength training,” Miyaki says. Remember, you lose fat via diet.
Finally, less is more. For natural athletes, 3 – 4 workouts per week are enough. “We grow and recover with the proper nutrition plan,” says Miyaki, “and some trainees tend to be in a broken-down, catabolic state, not allowing enough time for recovery.”
“A lot of people should get lean at first before they bulk,” Miyaki explains. “If you’re 20% body fat, you don’t need to bulk because you probably have poor insulin sensitivity.”
What if you’re thin with extra body fat? You still need to get lean first. That way, your body will distribute nutrients between muscle and fat optimally (called “nutrient partitioning”), and you’ll neutralize any fat gains.
Get to your desired level of leanness and clean bulk to the physique you want. That is how you pack on muscle and conquer the fat.
BY ANTHONY J. YEUNG, CSCS