By: Calvin Huynh | Macros Inc. Coach
Everybody wants to lose weight, but you can only lose weight for so long. Once you have reached the bottom end of healthy body fat levels, there is simply no more tissue to lose before some health consequences set in.
Getting to the low teens of body fat percentage for women, or the low single digits for men will result in compromised bodily functions, a plummeting sex drive, and hormonal health risks.
The endless articles on weight loss will not help you at that point.
So as useful as weight loss is, weight gain can be highly desirable, but it is not talked about much.
In fact, controlled weight gain can be healthy and beneficial if you are too lean, want to maintain a higher calorie lifestyle, boost strength performance, or simply want to pack on some size. Who does not like bigger biceps or glutes right?
It is Called Bulking
Most people, especially women cringe at the term bulking. It reminds them of excessively veiny bodybuilders who struggle to fit through a sedan’s door.
I do not blame them, but despite the bad rep, a bulking phase is merely a controlled weight gaining phase. During this phase, the goal is to intentionally gain weight with a caloric surplus. A successful bulk will slap on as much muscle and as little fat as possible.
So maybe we need a better word than bulking… maybe strategic jackedness, or something super cool like that.
Because if you gain muscle weight, you will generally look better while performing better despite the scale being higher. And while it is true that you can gain muscle without a surplus, this is more relevant in beginner and less lean populations.
So for experienced and lean individuals, bulking is almost necessary to build appreciable muscle.
Not to mention, a caloric surplus maximizes muscle growth, an already slow process.
Here is how you can go about a successful bulk which means all the gains and little to no squishy fat.
The Strength Train
Cardio is great, but it does not stimulate as much muscle growth as strength training. This is important because you want to stimulate as much muscle growth as possible. The more muscle growth you can demand from your body, the more likely the extra calories will go towards lean tissue.
Eating in caloric surplus without lifting weights defeats the purpose of bulking. You are now storing more fat with little muscle to show for, thus a good strength training program is critical. This doesn’t mean you cannot do cardio or other forms of exercise, but strength training should now be the priority if it was not already.
If you are already strength training, bulking is also a time to increase your training volume as well. You will be eating more food and have more energy to recover from more sets.
MORE FOOD + MORE LIFTING = MORE MUSCLES
Start with a Small Surplus
The higher the potential for muscle growth, the bigger your surplus can be. So a beginner lifter can eat a bigger surplus than an advanced lifter.
Nonetheless, it is best to err on the side of a smaller surplus. You can always go bigger if need be, but eating too much too fast merely results in needless fat gain (been there, done that, no bueno).
A calorie surplus of about 200-500 above your maintenance is a good starting point. The goal is to fuel the muscle growth that you’re stimulating without it spilling over to too much fat gain.
Do not fall into the bad advice of a dirty bulk where you gorge yourself in food because you cannot force-feed more muscle. A good solid bulk will allow for more food, but it is not an excuse to empty out a buffet every weekend.
As we discussed, beginners can get away with a bigger surplus, so they will be able to gain muscle faster.
A good rule of thumb is that a beginner can aim for 0.5-1% weight gain each week while an advanced lifter should aim for 0.25-0.5% weight gain each week.
You will need to look at your average each week and see if you’re gaining weight within these ranges. If you are not gaining at all, you need to increase daily food intake by 100-200 calories and retest. While we want to gain weight conservatively to minimize fat gain, we do not want to be too conservative where we are not even gaining weight at all. That defeats the purpose of a bulk.
If you are gaining weight within the appropriate range, that is great. The next step is to take waist measurements each week. If your waist measurements stay the same each week while weight goes up, it means you are gaining muscle with very minimal fat gain. That is great and for those who are more risk tolerant, you can even increase your surplus to build muscle faster, so long as the waist measurements don’t balloon up.
If your waist measurements are increasing quickly especially early in your bulk, it means your surplus is too big and too many calories are spilling over to needless fat gain. You need to reduce your surplus by about 100-200 calories and aim for slower weight gain.
Rinse and repeat this process for a few months depending on how much weight you would like to gain. Keep in mind, constructing new muscle tissue takes time. It is much easier to lose a pound of fat than it is to gain a pound of muscle, so be patient and stick with it.
Just like you do not want to yoyo diet, you do not want to yoyo bulk either because you will stay at the same weight with no muscle growth to show for. A bulking phase should last at least 2 months to ensure noticeable muscle growth.
So to sum up the key points of a successful weight gain. Lift weights, eat a little bit above your maintenance, measure progress, adjust and be patient because nobody gets jacked overnight.