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The Truth About "Bulking"
Doing It "Correctly"
“Bulking” has long been a psyop people tell themselves as an excuse to eat like a glutton and get fat.
When you actually look at the facts behind muscle growth, you will quickly realize that most go completely overboard and gain a TON of fat for absolutely no reason.
This is actually sacrificing muscle growth and health under the guise of being “effective”.
While it is true we need a caloric surplus to build muscle—being that muscle is energy expensive and can essentially be looked at, in a sense, as “stored energy”—the amount of extra calories we need is probably way lower than you think.
The Main “Issue”
The issue here isn’t that a caloric surplus is bad. It is in fact needed and useful—even necessary if you want to build muscle.
Contrary to how far too many gym bro’s “bulk” - a good starting point is just slightly above maintenance—maybe 200-300 calories above, depending on the individual and training experience—is enough to build muscle.
It is not uncommon to see someone “dirty bulk” which again is just an excuse to exercise zero dietary discipline and eat in excess of 1000 even 2000 calories above maintenance.
Now this does not mean you won’t gain muscle and size. You absolutely will along with a bunch of unwanted body fat that will ultimately slow down your muscle growth.
Another issue we are going to run into is that absolutely NOBODY wants to walk around at 15%+ body fat, which is visible chunky, yet I see guys do this literally all the time.
A lot of guys either do not have the dietary discipline to lose the weight or are afraid that a caloric deficit will suddenly cause them to “lose all of their gains”.
The latter part is ironic as the leaner you get the more definition your muscles will have and the bigger you will look, regardless if you did lose a negligible amount of muscle or not.
Again, most of you lift to look good so by constantly “bulking” you’re not really doing yourself any favors here. To be honest most people either can’t tell you lift or think “oh he looks good but he’s kinda fat, must be a powerlifter”—I say this completely seriously.
You would much rather look slightly small but actually impressive without a shirt than bigger and sloppier—this is simply fact most don’t want to hear.
What About Guys That Aren’t “Big” But Are Chunky?
If this is you, you are skinny fat and it is what it is. All hope is not lost as you’re in a unique position where you can do something about both the issue—losing the fat while getting bigger—because you are likely a beginner in terms of training age and physiology.
Same general advice is going to apply here - you’re simply going to focus on eating to or slightly above caloric maintenance and assess progress—are you losing fat and gaining muscle or looking worse - adjust.
I have an entire post on this here, suggest starting there.
Where Should You Start?
If you are the type that has been “perma bulking” for years, are over 15% body fat, and haven’t seen a semblance of abs for years, it’s probably time for you to stop bulking and lean out.
Passed a certain point, you are simply doing more harm than good. As you put on more and more body fat, you will start to have diminishing returns and actually increase the ratio of fat to muscle gained.
You’re also doing damage to your insulin sensitivity, your hormone levels, and likely going to—if not already—run into issues like elevated blood pressure.
My suggestion is to get the weight, body fat, and other issues in check before you decide to push on and do more harm than good. Stop being the kinda jacked, kinda fat guy in the gym.
My suggestion is cut, now, slowly, until you get sub 12% body fat, preferably around 10% or less maybe even 7-8% if you REALLY want to experience shredded + build from this perfect starting place. (yes this is lean BUT you will be in a great place to bulk).
When you’re there NOW we will do things right—this will give you much more success and actually allow you to look presentable most, if not all, of the year.
How To “Properly” Bulk
The funny thing is a proper bulk is actually maybe even harder than a cut - at least mentally.
Progress will be much slower and won’t be as mentally rewarding as a cut and changing week by week + it’s hard to watch your abs slowly disappear as you gain more size, BUT this won’t happen any time quick.
Not to mention, to avoid running back into the same issue of getting overly fat again, WE HAVE TO TRACK AND BE SMART WITH DIET—not a free for all.
Now that we’ve cut and established a good starting point for our bulk, we’ll call it around 10% body fat, we are in a great place to bulk.
We can experience a “rebound” here. This is not what you think when you hear rebound and people gaining the weight back, but rather a positive thing.
By increasing your calories to a small surplus, 200-300 calorie surplus, our first couple weeks, we will see huge size increases due to glycogen supercompensation + insulin sensitivity.
You will likely gain a lot of weight, but this will be mostly glycogen and water. We are in a very small surplus so little to no weight will actually be fat.
The key and goal here is that we put on fat as slowly as possible. Fat gain is inevitable to an extent when we bulk, but our goal is to maximize the ratio of muscle to fat gained.
As previously mentioned, it takes an amazingly small amount of caloric surplus (200-300—even 100 calories) to build muscle. We want to tread this line as close as possible to ensure we are accomplishing this goal of keeping fat gain at bay.
By doing so we can bulk for much longer periods which means much more muscle mass. You can already see this is a win-win scenario. We gain more muscle, put fat on slower, and stop at an appropriate body fat before doing it again if we so choose and want more size.
With this approach we can go from 10% to 15% over the course of many months, potentially 6 or so before we need to stop (15% should always be around your cut-off to stop—for health reasons and appearance reasons, you will still have slight ab definition when flexing).
For all these reasons, we need to be diligent with dieting and still tracking and eating healthy and reasonably. If you refer to our last post, you should be able to fit meals you enjoy and have flexibility WHILE staying within our caloric goals.
You are in a surplus which will be 700-1000+ calories over your deficit if we assume a 500-1000 calorie deficit during your cut. This is PLENTY of calories to incorporate foods you like and enjoy, even if they aren’t the “healthiest”.
You’re likely fatter than you think you are!
For some reason everyone thinks they are 12-15% body fat when they are really 16-18%+. This will screw you up big time and lead to the “perma bulk” phenomena.
Maybe 20% of the people I ever talk to are actually accurate with where they are. This isn’t a huge issue, body fat percentage doesn’t matter at the end of the day if you like the way you look and are healthy.
The issue is gym bro’s like to overinflate our image of ourselves and think we are really shredded when in reality we could lose some weight and look 100x better and feel much, much better.
This is meant to be tough love. My guy, you probably aren’t 12% you’re 15% body fat. PLEASE do not bulk and run into blood pressure, insulin resistance, and hormonal issues. Be smart. Be brutally honest with yourself. It will make you better.
Putting It All Togevva
If you’re going to lift and live this gym bro life, enjoy the process of actually looking like you lift.
You probably need a proper cut and to lose the irrational fear of “losing muh gainz”. What is going to happen is you are going to feel and look 100x better and set yourself up for much more success.
General rule of thumb - eating just slightly above maintenance is enough to build muscle (200-300 calories).
If you are over 15% body fat, it’s time for you to stop bulking and lean out.
If you’re skinny fat, focus on eating to or slightly above caloric maintenance and assess progress - this will take brutal honesty from yourself.
Lastly, a good starting point for our bulk is around 10% body fat.
TRACK AND BE SMART WITH DIET. Don’t go off the rails like most do and gain unnecessary body fat, progress takes time.
Stop being the kinda jacked, kinda fat guy in the gym. Be intelligent with your diet and training and the gains will come naturally.
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.