Guide to Bulking

A No Fluff Guide to Bulking, December 2021

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Transitioning from a less-fit or smaller body to a fit and muscular body sounds good, but it's not as simple as picking up weights. As a matter of fact, your diet is going to be one of the primary vehicles to achieve stronger muscles and mass.

Having successfully built my body through diet, I can say quite a lot about bulking. There are not many people who can demystify bulking as I would. So here you go, your no fluff guide to bulking would extensively discuss the following topics:

  • What is Bulking?
  • Nutrition
  • How the Gym Impacts Bulking.
  • Safe Bulking Tips

what is bulking?

Often people get the concept of bulking twisted. It isn't some magical adventure to have a body like the Hulk.

Also, bulking isn't all about gaining weight. It's purpose is to make you bigger because that makes it easier to push more weight around with the intention of losing it later on.

Everyone wants to stop being the skinny guy, but it's more important to start bulking on the right track.

What is bulking? Bulking is a dietary plan that requires you to consume more calories than you need for a period of time. The excess calorie intake is intended to increase overall mass, which is then used to get stronger and build more muscle.

Some quick myths or common misconceptions to dispel before you read on:

  • Bulking goes beyond building muscle mass.
  • You don't build body mass by weight lifting.
  • Anybody can bulk successfully, even if you haven't had success in the past.
  • Reading fitness magazines isn't going to help you bulk.
  • Protein shakes are a small part of bulking.
  • Training at the gym isn't bulking.

Your Nutrition Doesn't Lie

Bulking is as simple of an equation as calories in vs. calories out. This can only imply that the core of bulking is in your nutrition. It is clichΓ© amongst fitness experts that we say; abs aren't made in the gym, but in the kitchen.

It's worth your time to know that unlike cutting, if you miss a days mark of reaching calorie intake, you probably won't lose weight, just maintain. Still, you need to be eating more than you lose, so tracking your calories lost from a 1-hour free weights session will make it much simpler to eat the right amount.

Starting on the Right Track

The only way you can start bulking on the right track is to focus on your nutrition first. It all starts by keeping track of your calorie count as well as knowing how many calories your body needs.

Now, don't go about assuming your body needs an arbitrary number like 2000-2500 calories daily because it says so on a nutritional label. A 2000-2500 calorie count is just an average estimation from nutritionists. Calorie needs are specific to individuals.

Start by using a calorie calculator to know how many calories your body actually needs. This is determine by general level of activity, height, current weight, and goals (lose/gain weight, timeframe to achieve it). After determining how many calories your body needs, you can start getting into the nitty gritty of how to build your diet.

Start by taking 300-500 calories more than your body needs. Watch out for changes in your weight while you increase your calorie count. If it doesn't do the trick, increase the calorie count by another 300-500.

You Can't Eat Everything and Anything

Man sitting and eating chicken in his workout clothes

It gets tricky here; often people mistake eating above their calorie count for eating just anything and everything. Just before we delve into foods you should eat and foods you shouldn't.

Let's talk about what nutrients your body needs to build muscle mass. There are macronutrients that must make up the most of your daily serving and micronutrients that should make up a small portion of your daily serving.

Macronutrients are needed in a high proportion because they are the main pillars of a diet. These nutrients include carbs, proteins, and fats. It's recommended that your macronutrients fall within these percentage ranges:

  • 45–60% of your calories from carbs
  • 30–35% of your calories from protein
  • 15–30% of your calories from fat

Bulking is Not a Broad Diet Goal

There's a notion that bulking is a general term, but it's not exactly true. While bulking can be broken down into the idea of eating more, gaining weight, and thus, improving weight, it's not that simple.

Bulking is best achieved when you know what to eat and you aren't just consuming calories for the sake of calories.

Clean bulking refers to consuming more calories through whole foods and healthy options, but at higher than normal rates. Dirty bulking refers to getting your calories from any source, as long as you're reaching your intake and macronutrient goals.

Realistic Expectations

The most common complaint of people who are attempting to bulk is that they feel they aren't making progress, or that the progress is difficult. 

This shouldn't come as a surprise, but be warned that you need to set realistic expectations. Bulking means you have to be as dedicated towards gaining weight as you would losing it, so don't be discourage if it takes a few months to see the scale increase or you PRs start to go up.

It's also helpful to note that you may expect faster results in the beginning (gaining +5 - 10lbs in a month), and then it begins to taper off. Just be aware that bulking is difficult.

What You Should Be Eating

When I talked about bulking being more specific than generic, I talked about an order of priority for ordering your meal. So what should you eat, and in what order of priority should you eat them?

Proteins should be your first priority, basic science tells us it's important for bodybuilding. Afterward, prioritize your intake of carbs so you have sufficient energy to strength train, and continue your daily tasks.

Fats come after carbs and proteins; it works for specific body functions. Also, it's a great store for energy in the absence of carbs.

I figured that adding food sources for each of these food classes makes this resource more useful to you so here are some food group choices to get you started:

Food Sources for Proteins

If you're not an athlete and you have a healthy weight but wish to bulk, it's usually recommend that you aim for roughly 0.5-1g of protein per lb (2.2 g/kg) while athletes can aim for 1.50 g/lb (3.3 g/kg). This would help the athlete maintain weight and minimize fat gain.

  • Legumes (black beans, chickpeas).
  • Fowl (chicken, turkey, duck).
  • Cheese and dairy
  • Meat (bison, pork, steak)
  • Eggs
  • Fish and shellfish (salmon, tuna, shrimp).
  • Other vegetarian protein sources like nuts and seeds, etc.

Food Sources for Carbs

You'd be taking in lots of carbs, way more than your protein intake. You can also add healthy consumption of fruits to your can intake. Food sources for carbs include:

  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Whole grain bread
  • Legumes/lentils
  • Yams

Food Sources for Fats

The good thing about fats is that they don't make you feel as full as carbs. This is helpful for consuming the proper amount without the common issue of feeling bloated while bulking.

Nonetheless, don't forget that you only need 15-30% of your calorie count to come from fats. Now there are healthy sources for fats and unhealthy ones. Healthy food sources for fats include:

  • Walnuts
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Almond butter
  • Olive oil

Saturated fats are healthy as long as they are consumed in moderation. Food sources containing saturated fats can be sourced from; full-fat dairy, whole milk, lard, fatty cuts of meat, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter.

Food sources for Vegetables

Contrary to what many think, vegetables are vital for muscle building. This food group contains plenty of amino acids and protein synthesizing nutrients, along with vitamins and minerals, which contributes to healthy growth. Food sources for vegetables include:

  • Broccolini
  • Spinach
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Cucumber
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussel Sprouts

What Should Your Healthy Plate Portion Look Like?

Plate of salmon, peas, rice, and veggies

Your healthy plate portion should be Β½ vegetables and fruits, as per the revised nutrition guides. 

The rest of your properly portioned plate should contain 1/3 carbs/grains and 1/3 proteins.

Using Supplements

Man sitting at the gym drinking water

Supplements are useful for people who find it hard to take in more food than they need. While you slowly expand your stomach's accommodation for more food supplements can help you hit your target calorie intake or provide nutrients you otherwise wouldn't get.

Whey or casein powder can be a good source of nutrition that is most commonly used by weightlifters regardless of fitness goals.

You can make use of creatine supplements to improve the water retention capacity of your muscles as well. Creatine supplements increase the hormone IGF-1 that contributes to muscle growth and helps with muscular regeneration.

With the use of protein powders or calorie dense smoothies, it's possible to get your nutrients through liquid means. The downside of liquid calories is the fact that the body removes them quicker than solids, so it's not always a guaranteed way to meet your caloric intake daily.

You can mix water, oats, frozen spinach, frozen mixed berries, and protein powder into your liquid calories. This mix would give you a healthy blend of proteins, carbs, and fat if you mix them in the right proportions. 

How the Gym Impacts Bulking

Man wearing a white hat doing tripcep dips

Eating is an important part of bulking and the next important part is your strength training routine. Eating a lot of protein, carbs, and fat is good, but you need to actually utilize those nutrients with the right workouts.

How does this happen? Your muscles are broken down and rebuilt to adjust to the pressure and stress you expose it to as you strength train. This means you have control over what your muscles adjust to over time.

If you've been lifting light for a while, you'd find out your muscle adjust according to the workload. The day you lift heavier weights, you won't last as long under the pressure. Now, this is the gist of lifting and bulking; to get bigger, focus on making incremental but impactful improvements.

You didn't last long under a heavier weight because you haven't made your muscles adjust to that weight.

Increasing the weights you're lifting steadily helps your muscles adjust. We call this progressive overload in the fitness circle. When it comes to strength training for bulking, there are a number of methods you can choose.

The first method requires you to go to the gym 6-7 days a week and focus on a part of your body each day.

For example, Mondays focus on legs, Tuesdays for arms, on and on goes the plan. The second approach is less workload with 3, 4 or 5 days a week of training and focuses on a larger group of muscles or movements that are worked on each day.

Nevertheless, you'd be focusing on whole-body exercises. These are exercises that make your overall body fit in the right places. They include; bench press, deadlifts, squats, overhead press, power cleans, barbell rows, dips, push-ups, and pull ups.

This is the point where I say that research confirms that heavier weights for lower reps resulted in more muscle mass (read that twice).

Just before you get lazy, another study confirms that more sets per week resulted in more muscle mass. It all comes down to staying steady yet pushing and challenging yourself as you perform strength exercises.

The Skinny Fat Dude's Dilemma

I understand the fears of skinny-fat people because we have had many clients like them. My expert advice would be to lean out with a strength training program.

After attaining a desired body fat percentage, they can increase their calorie intake while sticking to their exercise routine. This would normally keep them in shape, and they wouldn't add any weight that may be a source of concern to them.

Safe Practices for Bulking

You do not want to bulk to unnecessarily tire you out and do worse damage to your body. Safety practice requires you to get the best of bulking without damaging your body. To undertake to bulk safely do the following:

  1. 1
    Get enough sleep. You need lots of it regardless of routine or diet.
  2. 2
    Have a day or two off after strenuous strength training exercises. You either do lighter exercises or don't exercise at all to help recover.
  3. 3
    Don't overeat or fill yourself with too many bad calories (junk food).


Bulking is simple if you approach it correctly. It begins with food, then strength training exercises, and then stick to the safety rules and precautions.

Remember that slow and steady is a better option than fast and undisciplined. Your diet remains the most important part of bulking.

A blend of weight exercises and bodyweight exercises is also healthy for bulking. Ultimately, bulking is as easy or as hard as you make it, so using what you've learned here can help you implement bulking into your goal planning.

Denver Matheson

I spend a lot of time at the gym and even more time in the kitchen giving my body what it needs to repair itself and grow stronger. The third most important place for any athlete is their research zone. That's exactly why this site exists, to help me share all of the information I've learned throughout the years just like people did for me in the first place!

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