Eat Big to Get Big
Obviously as a Personal Trainer a large proportion of my job is to help people lose weight. But there are clients who wish to build muscle but cannot increase their weight to add overall muscle mass.
You may think lucky them, what a nice problem to have, but they do not always see it the same way.
In the body building world the term “bulking” has been used for an extremely long time with the ultimate intention of increasing muscle mass, and there is some truth to it. The amount of food you consume every day does have an impact on building muscle. Placing your body in a calorie surplus will ensure optimum muscle growth.
Protein also plays a large part in building muscle, and feeding yourself the correct amount of protein is important, but you do not have to consume vast amounts every day to maximise muscle growth as some believe.
Your body burns energy every day and this can be measured in calories. A calorie is defined as the amount of energy required to heat 1 gram of water to 1 degree celsius at 1 atmosphere of pressure.
Now this energy comes from the food we eat or the fat stored on the body (energy stores).
So when we consume less energy (food) than we burn (activity) we place ourselves in a calorie deficit. This calorie deficit results in weight loss, but sometimes can result in muscle loss as well. So whilst we are in a calorie deficit we can slow the body’s ability to build muscle efficiently.
So this is why we bulk to ensure the muscles receive the calories from food they need to grow.
Now the general consensus is that you cannot build muscle unless you are “bulking” – this is not strictly true.
I believe if you are new to weightlifting you can build muscle whilst simultaneously lowering body fat. This is called “body recomposition”. Why do I believe there is some evidence in this? Well because I did it.
When I set out on my journey to lower body fat, build muscle and increase my well being I decided to lose the body fat first, and then focus on building muscle. In my mind the weight training was going to be fun, but the fat loss diet not so much.
When I was 8 months into my training I had lowered my weight by 28 pounds and built some decent muscle whilst doing it.
How do I think I achieved this?
Well I have self analysed many times and I believe I just got everything right.
My diet was designed to support muscle growth whilst ensuring fat loss. My training started from the outset with progressive compound exercises, and my mind was focused on my goal. I did not make excuses, skip sessions or diversify from my fat loss diet plan. I had spent a long time studying the best science supported ways to build muscle and lower body fat. It took a long while to break down some of the nonsense and bro science out there, but I utilised what was left, and it worked well.
The first year of building muscle is the most affective, so getting things right can really make a huge difference.
Okay so I believe body recomposition is achievable but let’s not get carried away as I do believe it is only achievable if you are a newbie and have a fair amount of fat to lose.
I must add I am talking about people who are drug free.
So if we are serious about packing the muscle on we should be in a calorie surplus or “bulking”.
Lets cover the topic of how much we should eat whilst bulking. Well let’s start with it’s not a great idea to shove as much food down your throat as possible, including all the junk food you can muster as some people actually do. Why? As you will definitely get fat.
Yes you will surely be in a calorie surplus which in turn means muscle growth but do you need all that food to build muscle? No you do not. Also the large amount of fat you add during the bulk will become more difficult to reduce when you start your “cut”.
This is how an efficient bulk should look:-
Do not use “bulking” as an excuse to eat as much as humanly possible as this will result in excessive fat gain. Calculate your BMR & TDEE and increase your calorie intake by 10-20% ensuring you are in a calorie surplus.Get the most from your training, focusing on compound exercises. Train for strength and hypertrophy, and not gaining a “pump”.A good stopping point for bulking is when your body fat reaches around 15% for men and 25% for woman. When you reach these body fat percentages consider cutting for a period to check out your hard earned muscles before your next bulk.
What about you “hard gainers”, these lucky or not so lucky people that cannot gain weight? Well start the same way by calculating your BMR & TDEE, then increase your calorie intake by 20%. Keep an eye on the scales and mirror and if you do not see any changes increase your calories by a further 10%. Keep doing this until your weight starts to increase.
I will add that it will be far more efficacious if you receive your calories from nutritionally dense foods.
If you really are struggling to consume enough calories in the day start consuming more high calorie foods such as nuts and whole milk as examples. My go to for clients are monkey nuts as they are inexpensive, nutritious and high calorie.
What do you think? Any hard gainers have questions?
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