Lift big, eat big, grow big. That’s the winning formula. It’s been proven to work because all the big boys do exactly that. They train their asses off, they eat like starving gorillas and just look at them, they’re huge. End of article, we have the answer already. No need for me to carry on any further.
Except, what if that isn’t the best way to go about mass gaining? Those of us who have dieted down to low body fat percentages know how few calories we can exist on and still somehow be retaining muscle. The very last time I did this I remember being literally shocked that I was barely eating and still holding on to muscle mass and yet fat loss was still challenging. If doing so on 2000 or fewer calories works to retain mass in that situation, then eating 4000 or 5000 calories will definitely pack on the muscle, right? Makes sense in our minds, because if we lift heavy weights and consume an abundance of fuel then our muscles are sure to grow. Simple bro math in full effect.
I covered how much muscle a natural weight lifter would be doing well to gain each week in an earlier article. The number is not all that impressive for those of you looking to add 20 pounds of solid mass this next bulking season. That number is roughly half a pound per week. Half of that is what a female weight lifter can hope to add if conditions are near perfect. That’s two pounds of muscle per month, if you’re doing everything right this is.
How many extra calories per day is that? Roughly 250. That’s right. You can look forward to chowing down of an extra 250 calories per day during your next bulk to build all the muscle you are ever going to realistically build. Doesn’t sound as fun as the method most of us use though, does it? Bulking means hitting the all you can eat buffet and putting the place out of business or eating dinner, dessert and then snacking in front of the TV afterwards. The thinking is that we must overfeed our muscles as that’s the only way they will grow. You are 100 percent correct in a manner of speaking, all that extra food is going to make you grow very big. Just look at the scale, you’re really bulking up bro!
The only problem with this strategy, aside from the fact that anyone who has tried it has gotten fat in the process and that makes it even harder on you when it’s time to get lean, is that getting fat is going to negatively impact your ability to gain muscle. How so? Allow me to explain.
It’s quite simple really. Remember the last time you were in great shape and it seemed your could lift forever? Even cardio or sprints, there was no limit to your work capacity. Well, that’s not going to be the case when you have accumulated an excess amount of body fat. Those easy 15 reps you used to get when performing squats will all of a sudden feel like an endurance test. You’ll be gasping for breath by so desperately that by the 10th rep you’ll likely just cut the set short. You’re lifting heavier anyway. No need to do those high reps, we’re building muscle here!
My point is that as you gain fat it eventually will get to a point when you no longer can perform at the level you are able to regularly performing at. Yes, you’ll probably be stronger, but if it’s your lungs that are giving out before your legs on those heavy squats then how exactly is that going to help you grow?
By keeping your diet in check you will not gain too much fat and you will be able to keep your conditioning at a level where it is ideal to build muscle. I guess that means that following a low carb, high protein plan in the bulking season is the way to go then, you may be thinking. That’s what got you lean, so therefore that must be the recipe to gain muscle without getting too fat. The only problem with this is that the link between carbs and strength is well documented and in order to grow bigger you are going to need to get those muscles stronger, so I don’t suggest that course of action.
Remember that 250 calories above maintenance that you’ll need to grow all the muscle you need? Well, it’s going to be determining what your maintenance is that will be crucial. The real number is somewhere between that sub 2000 calorie diet that you were on when you were focused on fat loss, when your metabolism slowed down to adjust to the lower energy levels it was getting, and that 4000 to 5000 calorie bulking plan that had you growing, but possibly at the expense of your conditioning.
Once you determine that number, then you add those 250 calories to the total and begin to figure out your macros. Now that we’ve determined above that carbs are going to provide the fuel for strength, and in order to grow bigger you’re going to have to get stronger, then obviously they will need to take up a pretty good portion of our diet. Then there’s that magic macro, protein. That stuff just turns into muscle, all you need to do is eat a lot of it. This is one of the biggest mistakes that everyone makes when bulking as eating too much protein will actually hinder your progress.
Before you declare me some sort of heretic for what I just said, ‘Did you read what he wrote? He said too much protein can prevent your muscles from growing. He’s crazy!’ Well maybe I am, but not because of what I said about protein. There of course is a catch to what I’m saying, so read on and you’ll get the full explanation.
One of the reasons that protein can hinder muscle growth, especially with those that are naturally skinny or don’t have much in the way of an appetite is that protein is both very thermogenic and extremely satiating. This means that by consuming excess amount of protein you are going to feel full, making it hard to get your caloric total in for the day, and all that protein is using up a lot of energy in the digestion process. The fact that protein will make you feel full will likely get in the way of being able to consume enough carbs to fuel the strength you need to build in order to grow. The burning of up to 25 percent of the calories that are consumed that are protein during digestion is also going to work against the naturally lean hardgainer.
What about the rest of us though? Those of us who are always hungry and for this reason alone the pursuit of bodybuilding attracted us. What a perfect fit for us to discover bodybuilding. We love to eat and that’s the name of the game in bodybuilding. The entire ‘sport’ seems to revolve around excess and that’s what drew many of us. Those of us who fit this description still need to be aware of our protein intakes because we don’t want to be going to far above that maintenance plus 250 calories number. If we use up a bunch of those calories on protein then we won’t have enough left over to take in the carbs we need. Or worse, we just free for all eat and end up getting really fat, which I already covered above. Besides, protein is expensive so why eat more of it than is necessary?
Eating more of it than you need will not in fact prevent you from gaining muscle, or harm your kidneys. It’s just not necessary or in the case of the hard gainer, may work against you. Just as it has never been proven how much protein can be digested at one time (if you are a believer in a magic number, there isn’t one), it also has never been proven, much to the dismay of supplement companies, that any more protein than just enough is needed to build muscle. All you need is the same amount of protein as someone who doesn’t even lift at all. In actuality, those who have accumulated large amounts of muscle need less than those who are just beginning their muscle-building journey.
That amount of protein seems to be around 20 percent of our daily caloric total. Add in 20 to 30 percent fat and 50 to 60 percent carbs and you have yourself a very effective muscle-building diet. This may sound somewhat contrary to someone who has been a proponent of the ketogenic diet often on this site, but I’m discussing the most effective way to build muscle, not the best way to stay lean and maybe build a little muscle. If you are someone, like me currently, who is on a quest to see just how much muscle they can build and you’ve hit a wall, then maybe it’s time to rethink what you’ve always been told. Maybe it’s time to do things differently and end up with a different result than those previous attempts.
Other reading you may be interested in that relates to this subject:
Join our list
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.