- Turn your body into an anabolic machine with the power of nutrition!
Turn your body into an anabolic machine with the power of nutrition!
Nutrition can easily make up 80% of the bulking game. If you aren’t on top of your nutrition, you certainly won’t see top results.
Don’t make the mistake many people do, thinking it’s all about lifting the heavy weights. It’s not. Building muscle optimally is a 24-hour process.
So, what are the ‘must-haves’ when it comes to good nutrition? Which boxes do you need to check?
- A surplus of calories
- Enough protein to ensure muscle protein synthesis is optimized
- Adequate amounts of dietary fat to support proper testosterone and hormone levels
- The perfect amount of the right types of carbohydrates to provide maximal energy for your training sessions – without leaving you packing on pounds of fat
Ready to eat for big gains, muscles, and mass?
Let’s get started.
Calorie intake: how to calculate for bulking
If squats are considered king in the workout world, calories are king in the nutrition world.
Everything stems from calorie intake.
If you screw this up, it doesn’t really matter what you do beyond this – you aren’t going to see the best progress possible.
Calories are what fuel the muscle growth process. You can’t build muscle out of thin air, so if that energy isn’t there to support this process, how far are you really getting?
Your goal should be to gain approximately 0.25 to 0.5% of your total body weight each week.
This means you need a calorie intake above maintenance to support this weight gain. Since there are 3,500 calories in one pound (.45 kg) of body weight, this will mean approximately 200 to 500 calories per day added to your current daily total.
Not sure how many calories you’re eating right now?
Don’t sweat it.
You have two options:
1. Track your total calorie intake across three days: 2 weekdays and 1 weekend day. Take the average across these three days (assuming you’re already maintaining your body weight).
2. Estimate your total calorie requirement by multiplying your total body weight in lbs by 16. For most people, this is enough to get them gaining weight. If you haven’t gained in a few weeks, try increasing that to 17 or 18, or upwards until you are.
Keep in mind, these measures will always be estimations and your body will change over time as you progress through the bulking phase.
If you notice your weight loss stalling (it can for a variety of reasons, such as a new, heavier body weight, metabolism that tends to speed up in periods of overfeeding, etc.), you’ll need to keep adding more calories every few weeks.
Protein: how much you really need
Now, let’s talk macros.
You probably already realize protein is the most important macro as far as building muscle goes, but it’s not the only one. Protein provides the structural building blocks your body uses to build lean muscle mass tissue.
If you don’t have protein, it’s like trying to build a house without any bricks.
You aren’t going to get too far.
Whenever you eat protein, you stimulate muscle protein synthesis – and whenever you go too long without eating protein, you do the opposite.
To actively grow new muscle tissue, you have to ensure muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown.
Many people suffer from a ‘more is better’ mentality and think they have to eat insane amounts of protein every day to build massive muscles.
This isn’t the case.
Once you’ve eaten enough protein, any additional beyond that will just be used for energy, excreted, or converted to body fat. So, at this point, you’re better off devoting more of your calories toward carbohydrates or dietary fat.
But how much is enough?
You’ll want to aim for between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kg (2.2 lbs) of lean mass. Keep in mind this is lean mass.
If you haven’t done a body fat reading recently using a DEXA machine, then just use the ballpark number of 2 grams per kg (2.2 lbs) of body weight.
Work out your numbers now and you’ll likely find your protein requirement isn’t quite as much as you figured. There’s no need to slam protein shake after protein shake!
Remember to get your protein from high-quality sources of complete protein such as chicken, lean beef, fish, seafood, eggs and whey protein powder.
Split this as evenly across the day as you can, so your body always has a steady stream of protein coming into its system.
Dietary fat: essential for gains & growth
Don’t fear fat!
Some people go on ultra-low-fat bulks, thinking that by eating as little fat as possible, they can avoid the fat gain that typically comes with building muscle.
First, get comfortable with the notion of fat gain when building muscle.
Even though you’re lean bulking, some fat gain is inevitable if you want to make progress. If you completely avoided all fat gain, you’d be bulking so slow it would be more of a ‘maintenance’ phase. You’d pretty much be maintaining your body weight, or only gaining an ounce or so of muscle mass per month. Without any appreciable progress, your motivation would likely fly out the window soon enough.
We can minimize fat gain, but we can’t avoid it entirely.
Besides, those ultra-low-fat diets are a fantastic way to zap your testosterone levels in a hurry. And we all know testosterone is the most powerful muscle-building hormone in the body.
Because dietary fat doesn’t do much to fuel intense workouts and is calorie-dense (so fat gain is more likely because of it), we want to aim to eat enough, but not more.
This means to follow your minimum daily recommendation, which is set to around 20 to 30% of your total calorie intake.
For those doing a lean bulk, you’ll aim for approximately 0.77 grams per kg (2.2 lbs) of body weight.
Beyond this intake, there aren’t many benefits for additional hormone release. There’s just no point going higher.
Here again, try to focus on fats from naturally-occurring sources.
There’s a difference between fat from deep-fried Oreos and fat from salmon.
Try and choose omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods and monounsaturated fats whenever possible, but don’t shun saturated fat completely.
Naturally-occurring saturated fat is actually very critical for optimal testosterone production, as shown in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.1 So, it also assists with muscle building.
Carbs: how many and when
After protein and fat are calculated, carbs will fill in the gap.
Just like fats, they too will influence hormones and can help keep you in an anabolic, muscle-building state.
Carbohydrates form muscle glycogen; the substance that fuels your training as well as your recovery. They’re the only form of energy the body can use during intense exercise.
Eating carbohydrates immediately after training also ensures you don’t stay in a catabolic state (muscle breakdown), transitioning you to an anabolic state instead.
There’s no set amount for carbohydrates – rather, you’ll just eat however many calories you have remaining as your carbohydrate intake. Keep in mind that protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, while fats contain 9.
Quick-start macro guidelines
- Protein: 2 grams/kg of body weight (or 0.9 grams/lb)
- Dietary Fat: 0.77 grams/kg of body weight (0.35 grams/lb)
- Carbohydrates: Remaining caloric intake
Sample bulking meal plan
Below, you’ll find a sample meal plan to outline how your daily diet should look.
Keep in mind, this will be based around someone who weighs 180 pounds (81.64 kg) and has a daily calorie need of 3,000 calories.
If you need more or less, you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
- Protein: 160 grams (6 servings of protein – 25-30 grams/serving)
- Dietary Fat: 63 grams (6 servings of fat – 10-11 grams/serving)
- Carbohydrates: 448 grams (18 servings of carbs – 25 grams/serving)
1 serving protein, 3 servings carbohydrates, 1 serving fat
1 cup egg whites scrambled with 1 whole egg, ½ tbsp. olive oil, half a cup of diced vegetables, 1 cup ‘hash browns’ made of sweet potatoes pan-fried, 1 orange
1 serving protein, 1 serving carbohydrate, 1 serving fat
¾ cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 banana sliced over top, 1 tbsp. natural peanut butter
1 serving protein, 4 servings carbohydrates, 1 serving fat
4 oz. grilled lean sirloin steak served with 2 cups brown rice, 1 cup steamed broccoli, ¼ sliced avocado
Mid-afternoon / pre-workout snack
1 serving protein, 3 servings carbohydrates, 1 serving fat
4 oz. grilled chicken breast served on top of 2 slices Ezekiel bread, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, 1 oz. cheddar cheese, 1 cup of grapes
1 serving protein, 3 servings carbohydrates
1 scoop whey protein powder blended with 1 banana, 1 cup frozen blueberries, 1 cup skim milk and 2-3 ice cubes
1 serving protein, 3 servings carbohydrates, 2 serving fats
4 oz. grilled salmon served with 1 ½ cups baked sweet potatoes and grilled asparagus in 1 tbsp. coconut oil
1 serving protein, 1 serving carbohydrate, 1 serving fat
½ cup cottage cheese mixed with 1 tbsp. natural peanut butter and ½ cup ‘bran buds’ cereal
Having bulking issues?
Here are some solutions to the most commonly experienced problems.
Scale not moving linear? Don’t worry. Look for trends. Some weeks you’ll gain more, others less. As long as the scale is going up appropriately and you don’t feel you’re gaining too much fat, that’s what you’re after.
If you stop seeing weight gain, 250 to 300 additional calories should do the trick. Remember to rework your macros.
If you don’t see weight gain but your weight lifted is going up, this is a great sign you’re still building muscle. You may be one of the lucky ones who build muscle and burn fat at the same time.
Went overboard? We all indulge from time to time. Just like a fat-loss diet, scale back slightly over the next day or two to prevent excess fat gain. You don’t need to stress over dieting, though. The point is weight gain right now.
Worried you can’t gain because of your natural approach to bodybuilding? Relax! You’re not the first one to bulk up this way. And yes, it will happen. But if you’re feeling a little impatient, why not try out the CrazyBulk bulking stack to push your body into full-on beast-mode sooner?
Over to you!
Muscles are made in the kitchen. And now you know exactly how. Use this to your advantage and do whatever you have to do to make it happen. Meal prep is the real key to success. Designate an entire Sunday to cooking up a whole batch of nutritious meals which will last you throughout 4 full weeks of training.
It’s up to you to make this work, and the sooner you start, the sooner you gain. Start fuelling your body properly today for ultimate growth to begin this month.
Related: Best Weight Gainer for Men to Go From Skinny to Swole in Just a Few Weeks
Dorgan, Joanne F., et al. “Effects of dietary fat and fiber on plasma and urine androgens and estrogens in men: a controlled feeding study.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 64.6 (1996): 850-855.
WHEELER, GARRY D., et al. “Endurance training decreases serum testosterone levels in men without change in luteinizing hormone pulsatile release.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 72.2 (1991): 422-425.
Gabriello is a writer and strength expert best known for his science-based and practical approach to Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Strength. After serving in a directors position for The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Gabriello moved towards writing to help more people understand the importance of living a healthy life. Gabriello’s writings have been published in several languages on some of the largest health and fitness websites helping people learn, grow and understand the complex components of optimizing human performance in a simplistic way.
Gabriello also takes on specialized, high-performance athletes who are in need of strength, mobility and conditioning programming to optimize their fitness through his Earned Fitness program.
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