Now that the colder weather is closing in, which not only signifies to end of summer and the beginnings of fall and winter, but perhaps more importantly, it signifies the fact that we’re now in bulking season. For bodybuilders, and people simply trying to get themselves into better shape, the colder months of the year are often used for bulking up, in which the main objective is to literally build as much muscle mass as is humanly possible. One problem that a lot of bodybuilders tend to have however, is gaining too much body fat in the process. Whilst you do need to enter and remain in a caloric surplus in order to build muscle mass, that does not mean you should consume several thousand calories per day and eat everything in sight. There is an art to bulking, and if you’re looking to remain relatively lean this off-season, you need to know that it can be done. To help you out, here’s a look at seven proven lean bulking tips, to help you bulk up, whilst remaining relatively slender in the process.
Do not ‘dirty bulk’
As mentioned, one of the most common mistakes made by bodybuilders when they’re bulking up, is to do what is known as a ‘dirty bulk’ in which they literally eat copious amounts of junk food, consume several thousand more calories than they require, and consequently end up gaining too much body fat far too quickly. Sure they also build muscle mass, but by binge eating on vast quantities of junk food, they sadly gain far too much body fat, and then struggle to lose it several months down the line. When you are bulking up, by all means enjoy the odd dessert with dinner, and by all means don’t stress out about a cheat meal on the occasional weekend, but for the most part, try to keep your foods lean and healthy.
Keep your diet clean
As mentioned above, whilst a cheat meal now and then is perfectly fine, and whilst you can certainly add a knob of butter, or a dollop of sour cream to your baked potato, for the most part, your diet should be clean, healthy, and balanced. This means you need to consume plenty of proteins from whole food sources, I.E lean meat, fish, seafood, and organic eggs, along with healthy fats, and plenty of complex carbohydrates. You may very well see some off-season bodybuilders eating pizza, and takeout virtually every day, but in order for you to remain lean, you should consume fresh, healthy, and balanced produce. What’s more, your meals should also contain plenty of fresh vegetables, as they are loaded full of nutrients, and they nourish your body and improve your health and well-being in the process.
Invest in supplements
When bulking up, if used correctly, supplements can be incredibly beneficial and useful, and they can really help you to take your physique to the next level. You should however, choose a supplement stack that will really benefit you and help you to achieve your goals. Creatine, whey protein, mass gainers, a multi-vitamin, and an essential fatty acid supplement are all great products to begin with, although as you learn more, and begin training harder, you may wish to think about additional amino acids, post-workout carb sources, and so on.
Don’t rely on supplements
Although supplements are incredibly beneficial when used correctly, they are designed to be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and smart training program, so never ever skip meals in favour of taking supplements instead. There really is no substitute for clean, healthy, wholesome foods, so if it comes down to a choice between a protein shake, or a balanced meal, you should always go for the whole food option.
Mix up your training
When bulking, people often seem to think that training heavy and keeping rep ranges low is the only option, but that is not the case at all. Whilst you will become stronger due to the additional calories you are consuming, you should still try slightly lighter weights and higher rep ranges every so often. The key to optimal muscle hypertrophy is constantly switching things up and keeping your body guessing, so if you have followed a certain training protocol for a few weeks, and if you are growing bored, or hitting a plateau, try switching things up and trying a different program instead.
Embrace compound exercises
The primary objective behind a bulking phase is to build as much muscle as possible, and studies have found that compound exercises are ideal for anybody looking to increase their overall muscle mass. This is because compound exercises recruit multiple muscle groups at once when being performed, so by doing one exercise, you are basically working several muscle groups at the same time. Machine-based exercises are designed to isolate certain muscle groups, which will obviously not equate to overall muscle mass. You should still perform isolation exercises, but when you are trying to grow, fairly heavy compound exercises are absolutely ideal.
Despite what people say, cardio does not burn off muscle mass, so if you are scared of losing your gains through cardio, there really is no reason to worry. What cardio will do however, is help to burn off excess body fat and keep you relatively lean in the process, so when you are bulking try to perform cardio at least 3 times per week, ideally steady state, as that will keep your heart rate in the optimum fat burning range.