Author: Raj Chandler • Fact checked by: Tara D. Thies • Jan. 5, 2021
We hear a lot about fat loss and tips to burn fat in the world of fitness and nutritional supplements. But bulking – the process of gaining muscle through a regimen of weight training combined with a specific meal plan – is one of the other more common goals of athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts from all walks of life. A muscular physique shows long-term dedication to health and well-being and can be a source of confidence.
The foundation of bulking successfully is eating. Dieting for bulking requires specific programming, especially as it relates to your calorie intake and consumption of protein. Each individual person will require a slightly different diet plan to maximize their own success with bulking.
This article will provide an overview of bulking to gain muscle, discuss a few general concepts you’ll need to build muscle, and provide some advice for helping you craft your own bulking meal plan.
The process of bulking can be broken down into two parts: dieting and weightlifting. To maximize your muscle growth – referred to sometimes as hypertrophy – you’ll need to optimize both areas. Science shows that even if you engage in resistance training, if you don’t consume a sufficient amount of food your body will remain catabolic, which means it will lose mass instead of gaining it.
When you lift weights, you are putting strain on your muscles that disturb particles known as myofibers. Weight training sets off a reaction in the muscles that causes an increase in the size and amount of these myofibers, which is what causes muscles to grow. This entire cycle is referred to as exercise-induced hypertrophy.
Consistently lifting weights or performing other strength training exercises will help you gain muscle, but it’s not the only component. The other part of the equation for successful bulking is your diet plan.
To build muscle, you’ll need a well-rounded approach to dieting that provides flexibility but also meets your daily macronutrient (or “macro”) targets. The most important macro to think about while bulking is protein. Without a sufficient amount of protein, your body won’t be able to gain muscle efficiently.
For an average adult, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein intake is 0.36 grams of protein per pound that you weigh, or 0.8 grams per kilogram. However, if you are looking to gain muscle, you will likely need to set your daily target a bit higher.
People who prioritize building muscle might want to have a minimum closer to 2.2 grams per kilogram, or around 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. Although there’s not one magic number and recommendations vary by person, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for athletes. Following that general guideline, consuming closer to 1.6 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight may be beneficial for bodybuilders and those looking to build muscle or maintain lean body mass.
Beyond just determining how much protein you’ll need, you also want to think about other macros. They may not be as critical as protein in the chemical process of muscle growth, but because they still affect our bodies, fats and carbs are still worth your attention. For example, some people hit their daily protein goal by breaking it down as a percentage of their daily caloric intake. With this approach, roughly 15 to 25 percent of your caloric intake should be from healthy sources of protein.
Remember that each person’s body type is slightly different and will respond to protein intake in a different way. Try experimenting with various amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats to determine which exact balance helps promote the growth of lean mass while providing sufficient energy for your day.
A personalized bulking meal plan is the best way to bulk because it’ll help you stay consistent. It’s much more challenging to adhere to a training regimen or diet plan that isn’t aligned with your tastes or your daily schedule.
Here are a few things to think about while you are working on your meal plan:
Allergies and dietary sensitivities. For example, people who abstain from eating meat for personal reasons or due to a digestive sensitivity will need to incorporate other sources of proteins like beans, peas and other whole grains.
Taste preferences. While bulking will likely require you to change your diet to some degree in the pursuit of additional muscle mass, forcing yourself to eat foods or drink shakes or other supplements that you don’t enjoy isn’t a recipe for long term success. For example, if you don’t enjoy tuna, you can program an alternate lean protein source to replace it.
Lifestyle. Most people aren't able to devote a full-time schedule to bodybuilding - and that's okay! With the right nutrition plan and workout routine, you'll still be able to see results. You may need to adapt certain common practices like meal prep or aerobic exercise to your schedule. For example, if you have less time in the morning but more time at night, you might handle meal planning responsibilities in the evenings.
Lifting schedule. On a similar note, the time of day when you lift will have a minor impact on your muscle building efforts. Research suggests that the body is in an optimal state to receive nutrients immediately after weight training. This is why you'll see many people immediately rush to grab a post-workout whey protein shake or even a few scoops of peanut butter. While it's good to replenish your body with some nutrients after any kind of exercise, keep in mind that the science related to the so-called "anabolic window" is relatively anecdotal. In other words, it's not the end of the world if you miss a post-workout shake or meal - you can still gain lean mass!
Whenever it comes to personalizing a meal plan - whether you are following a ketogenic diet, paleo, or some other eating style - it's always best to consult with a registered dietitian or nutritionist. They'll be able to help you create a plan that allows you to achieve your goal of adding mass without also gaining excessive body fat. They'll answer questions you may have about popular eating styles like keto and low carb diets, then will be able to give you an exact plan to follow that will help you add mass.
Unless you want to, there's no reason to endlessly consume old school bodybuilding meals like brown rice, chicken breast and veggies. To gain weight that's mostly muscle, you need three things: the right diet, the right training plan, and consistency over the long haul. Beyond that, you are free to customize your eating and training style to fit your preferences. In fact, it's better to create a fitness plan that's customized to your own needs. A personalized plan will help you stay consistent, and while there may be times you have to use discipline during your bulk, a plan built just for you will ensure that your path to gaining muscle is much smoother and more enjoyable.
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