When you decide to go on a so called “bulk” it‘s surely not about going bonkers with your eating-habits completely. You want your body to effectively gain strength and muscle mass. It‘s about following a certain workout- and nutrition-schedule, just like being on a diet. Maybe a little less strict and a bit more fun.
1. What are PROs and CONs of bulking?
The PROs are on hand:
An effective bulk will make your body build muscle and lead to increased strength.
For example: I was able to improve my squat by 30 kg in 6 months following a linear progression program and my nutrition plan: deadlift improved for 32.5 kg and bench press for 15 kg.
That was the physical aspect of it, but another important element is the mental part. I made the experience that my growing physical power had a direct connection to my mental strength.
The stronger I got, the happier and more confident I felt.
Building muscle naturally, without enhancement is a challenge particularly for women. Our bodies weren‘t meant to build crazy amounts of it. Workouts need to be intense and nutrition must be on point – period.
If all parameters are perfect you will gain around 1 kg per month as a woman (according to Lyle McDonald, nutrition- and training-expert). The thing is: only half of it will be actual lean mass.
Means: you will also gain a certain amount of body fat. In the end about half of the weight you gained will be fat. This can be a negative aspect you might have to deal with.
My personal opinion: I wanted to increase my performance, it wasn‘t just about aesthetics. Sometimes I felt a bit “fat” and a bit “jiggly” here and there, but my overall mood and feeling was great. I felt strong, self-aware and there was not much that could baffle me.
Another point is that you might get a bit more sluggish because of the gained weight. This can be something to mind when you are a Crossfitter: You can expect to become a bit slower when doing MetCons, but on the other hand your lifts will get stronger.
2. What diet I should do for bulking/gaining muscle?
I found a high-carb/low-fat diet best suited for this process. Your body needs energy to perform heavy lifts so carbohydrates are mandatory, the more the better.
When consuming high amounts of carbohydrates, fat-intake should be on the lower side to avoid gaining excessive amounts of body fat: 0.8-1.0 g per kg bodyweight are common and worked great for me. Also you want to provide your body with enough protein, 1.8 g per kg bodyweight at least, more than 2.0 are not necessary.
3. How much calories should I eat?
This is very individual and depends on your body, weight, workout-intensity, etc. First of all you want to determine your maintenance calories. There are rather accurate online calculators out there that can help with this. Or you can get yourself a calorie-tracker – but you‘ll be fine with just online-calculating your calories/macros.
4. How much extra calories should I eat?
You will start with your maintenance calories and add about 200 kcal to that. Try this for at least two weeks. If you don‘t gain any weight, continue raising your calories until numbers on the scale start to go up.
I started with 2.300 kcal and low-carb rest days. I soon noticed that I was actually losing rather than gaining weight. So I raised my calories and eventually ended up with eating 2.600 kcal and almost 400 g of carbs everyday, no matter if it was workout- or rest-time.
5. Should I fear of gaining too much weight?
You will gain weight, but don‘t be afraid of it – this is what you want! It should not be more than 1 kg per month though. When you gain too much, you will have to adjust your calories. This is actually a safe game you see: You WILL and WANT to gain weight, but it certainly won‘t be too much when you stick to the rules.
6. What should I eat to gain muscle?
Filling your macros is priority number one but it’s always a good thing to go with natural, unprocessed foods, cook fresh and eat wholesome to provide your body with all needed macro- and micronutrients. Most of the time there will still be enough space for satisfying your sweet tooth.
7. Can I eat sweets when bulking?
Yes you can! I used to eat gummy-bears, pudding, low-fat ice cream and other sugary stuff as macro-fillers a lot.
8. What is the worst thing when gaining muscle?
Overall it‘s big fun. You have endless energy for your workouts and your confidence will grow along with your strength.
There is actually nothing that I can call “bad” about it. Maybe dieting down after a bulk can get a bit uncomfortable, but it‘s part of the game. And the final and desired result is what you get after a bulk and the following calorie-cut to burn off the unwanted excess of body fat.
9. How long should I bulk?
That is mostly up to you, time for a bulk varies and depends on whether you are doing it more aggressive or slower (bigger or smaller calorie-plus). Most people like to be in their best shape in summer to look good at the beach/swimming pool so it is always a good idea to bulk over the winter months, leaving enough time to get rid of extra body fat. Everything from 3-6 months is a good time-frame for a decent bulking-phase if you want to get in shape for summer again.
My personal experience: I usually really love eating and cooking and I am a true foodie. During my bulk I experienced that preparing and eating my meals started to bore me, and I lost part of my creativity when cooking. My meals became very simple and macro-oriented (protein-source, carb-source, veggies). I guess when you are always sated and satisfied it doesn‘t matter that much to you anymore – food was no longer a temptation.
The good thing about this is: it made me calm in my approach to cutting calories again. When you always eat until you are full (or even more) for over 6 months you don‘t see an upcoming diet as restriction.