The first thing that comes to mind when it comes to bulking up is eating for size. Most gym rats divide their nutrition into a “bulking” phase and a “cutting” phase. The “bulking” phase is used to put on as much muscle as possible, while the “cutting” phase is used to strip all the excess fat off that was put on while “bulking”.
Unless you are a skinny bastard and need to gain over 20 lbs, there is a better approach to increasing lean muscle mass than using the conventional “sea food” diet to bulk up. Most natural trainees believe that they can put on 10 lbs of muscle in a month or even two months. Before I discuss a more sound approach to “bulking”, let’s see why natural trainees should not go on an all out bulking phase.
The problem with most “bulking” phases is that most trainees use the off season as an excuse to eat whatever they want. While it is true that if you are not consuming enough nutrients your muscle growth will be limited, natural trainees have a limited capacity to build muscle and the amount of muscle they can build is subject to their body’s ability to synthesize new muscle tissue through their protein intake. This process, known as protein synthesis, is highly dependent on genetics and natural Testosterone levels, Testosterone to cortisol ratio, insulin sensitivity, and your muscle fiber makeup (slow twitch, fast twitch), along with other factors. Eating any amount of food you want will not change your protein synthesis limit naturally. In fact, by consuming more food than your body can handle, you will have an increase in body fat. (Thibaudeau 2006).
So how much muscle can we build in a month?
As I stated before the natural trainee is completely misguided when it comes to putting on muscle mass. By stepping on a scale and seeing a 10 lb increase in a month, they are convinced that the 10 lbs is all muscle. What they don’t realize is that an increase in muscle mass leads to an increase in water storage and glycogen. In reality, a natural trainee can only gain 1-2 lbs of dry muscle mass a month. The other 8 lbs is made up of fat, water storage and glycogen. The counter agreement to this by the trainee would be that they did not gain any fat. As Christian Thibaudeau has stated, there is a ”lean threshold” for men in which they will appear to look the same regardless of their body fat. For most men a lean threshold would be between 12-16% body fat. 10% would be considered pretty lean and over 18% would be considered fat. Anything in between is very vague and it is very hard to notice fat gains. Over a couple of months this could lead to an enormous increase in body fat with eventually noticeable differences in body fat.
Should we use the tradition bodybuilding method of bulking up and then cutting down or is there a better way to put on lean muscle mass?
By consuming a caloric surplus of just enough nutrients to promote lean muscle growth, you can gain around 1-2 pounds of dry muscle per month. When compared to the tradition bulking phase, the fat gains with this method will be minimal. Let’s take a look at this approach from a year long perspective. After a year you could gain anywhere from 12-24 lbs (1-2 lbs per month) of dry muscle and as little as 6-10 lbs of fat, water storage and glycogen.(Thibaudeau 2006). Like training, the key to increasing lean muscle mass is steady progression. It takes time, dedication and consistency. Do not use a tradition “bulking” phase as an excuse to eat like a fat bastard. Instead be consistent in your eating habits and gain muscle while minimizing fat! Stay tuned for part II of this article when I will discuss what methods to use for a clean bulking cycle.
Sources: T Muscle