Bulking up to gain muscle mass and then cutting down to shed fat is the core of bodybuilding. However, this doesn’t mean you should stuff yourself with junk and eat everything in sight. Justifying poor food choices in the name of bulking is a huge mistake. After all, you want to maximize muscle growth while keeping fat to a minimum. If that’s your goal, a clean bulking diet plan is the way to go.
How to Bulk Up the Clean Way
Like it or not, you can’t build muscle without gaining fat. Things are actually quite simple. To gain muscle, you need to be in a calorie surplus. This means you have to eat more calories than you burn. For most guys (and gals), bulking becomes an excuse to eat anything and everything. As a result, they end up gaining too much fat.
A clean bulking diet plan can help you gain muscle with minimum fat. This involves creating a healthy calorie surplus that maximizes lean muscle gains. With the exception of hardgainers, we can not consume calories indiscriminately. It’s important to eat foods that provide the most nutrients per calorie. At the same time, you need to gradually increase your daily calorie intake. Click here to find out How to calculate calories for cutting, bulking, or maintenance.
To bulk up, choose foods with the highest nutrient-per-calorie density.
The first step to successful clean bulking is to determine your calorie
maintenance level. Next, try to figure out how many extra daily calories you need to gain weight. In the article mentioned above, I recommend increasing your daily calorie intake by up to 500 calories a day. Start with 100 extra calories above your maintenance level while continuing to meet your macros. This way, you’ll have better control over your weight. Expect to gain up to two pounds a month.
Keep in mind that bulking isn’t an excuse to get fat. While it’s true that you need to overeat for building muscle, the key is to choose your foods wisely. If your body is in a constantly overfed state, anabolic resistance may occur. This can limit your ability to gain muscle, causing you to pack on fat.
Rules for a Clean Bulking Diet Plan
Set realistic goals and measure your progress along the way. Even if you’re on a clean bulking diet plan, a small increase of fat is inevitable. That’s why is recommended to get lean before bulking up. If you’re over 14% body fat (19-24% body fat for women), keep cutting until you hit single digits. Then you can start adding calories to your diet. To stay lean, go back to cutting once you’re up to 14-15% body fat (24-27% for women). This way, you’ll have ripped abs and decent muscle definition year round.
Still not convinced? According to Lyle McDonald, “it is more realistic to expect an increase of body fat by 3-5% while responsibly clean bulking.” The more fat you gain when bulking up, the longer it takes to get it back off. However, this doesn’t mean you should fear bulking and avoid it altogether. Unless you already have perfect symmetry and size, your fear of body fat can prevent you from ever getting any better.
“It is more realistic to expect an increase of body fat by 3-5% while responsibly clean bulking.” (Lyle McDonald)
Now you’re probably wondering what to eat on a clean bulking diet plan. Your food choices do matter. As I’ve said clean eating vs. IIFYM, not all calories are created equal. 500 calories worth of chicken breast and quinoa are not the same as 500 calories worth of chocolate or potato chips. Even though you can still “clean bulk” with the occasional ice cream or cookies, it shouldn’t become a habit. Your daily calories should come from nutrient-dense foods, such as:
Salmon, tuna, mackerel
A clean bulking diet plan also requires the right macronutrient ratios. Just hitting your calories is not enough; you also need to eat optimal amounts of protein, carbs, and fats. Macronutrient ratios can make or break your diet.
When you’re bulking, it’s recommended to increase your carb intake. Protein and fat stays constant. Some athletes have most of their calories and carbs at night while bulking up. This approach stimulates the production of cGMP and mTOR, two of the most important muscle-building hormones. It also prevents insulin spikes and regulates blood sugar.
Remember to track your progress while on a clean bulking diet plan. Check your measurements every three to four weeks. Cut or add calories based on your results. A simple way to measure your progress is assessing your strength. If you’re getting stronger, you will get bigger. To maximize your gains, get proper rest and keep cardio to a minimum. Some guys skip cardio altogether in the off season.
If you have a hard time hitting your calorie goals, consider using weight gainers. To save money, make your own gainer using whey protein and dextrose or other source of carbs. Keep in mind that post workout nutrition is crucial. Adding supplements like glutamine, creatine, and BCAAs to your protein shake can enhance your gains and prevent catabolism.