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When it comes to bulking up, nothing is more important than a calorie surplus, which happens when you take in more calories than your body burns off in a day. In order to see real, measurable improvements in your size and strength, you have to be regularly consuming an ample amount of calories over the course of your bulk.
But just eating a ton of extra calories can lead to significant gains in body fat, which is not what any of us are after when we’re trying to bulk. Instead, having a clear understanding of how many calories your body actually burns off in a day will allow you to add extra calories into your diet with precision.
Simply eating a calorie surplus, however, doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to put on lean muscle mass -- this is where counting your macronutrients comes in to play. On top of regularly exercising, In order to pack on muscle mass and minimize fat gains during your bulk, you need to find a macro split that’s both effective and easy to be consistent with.
Macros For Bulking: Why Are They Important?
So, by now you may be asking yourself, “Why worry about counting your macros at all?” You’re probably aware that macros are the calorie providing substances found in food, but that’s only half of the picture. Each macronutrient actually has a number of unique and vital functions within your body.
When we’re talking about bulking up, no macro is more important than protein. Without enough of in your diet, it's going to be very difficult to make noticeable gains in muscle mass no matter how many calories you consume, or how many hours you spend in the gym.
With that being said, dietary fat and carbohydrates also perform a number of important functions within your body. Without enough carbs, it’ll be difficult to muster up the energy it takes to make it through a demanding workout. Too little fat in your diet and your body may be unable to produce the hormones it needs to support the muscle-building process.
Ultimately, having a balanced intake of all 3 macros in your daily diet is the key to maximizing your muscle-building potential and maintaining your overall health over the course of your bulk.
How to Count Macros For Bulking in 4 Easy Steps
Ok, so now you know why you should be counting your macros during a bulk, now let’s go over how to actually do it. There are a few relatively simple steps you'll need to follow in order to get your bulking diet dialed in and on point. The first is figuring out how many calories your body actually burns off in a day.
Step 1: Figure Out Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
The amount of calories you expend in a day -- taking into account your activity level -- is known as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). One of the easiest ways to figure out your daily calorie needs is by using an online TDEE calculator.
The calculator will give you an estimate of how many calories per day it takes to maintain your current weight based on your height, weight, sex, age, and activity level.
Step 2: Moderately Increase Your Calories Based on Your TDEE
Once you know your TDEE, the 2nd step is adding additional calories to your diet to create a calorie surplus. While it might be tempting to go overboard, you’re going to want to stick with a moderate surplus.
Professional strength athletes, like Matt Minuth, who is a world-record-holding powerlifter, usually shoot for a surplus of between 250-500 calories per day. That’s plenty of extra calories to pack on mass and small enough of a surplus to limit fat gains during your bulk. The goal is gradual weight gain; if you’re gaining a few pounds a week, there is a very good chance you’re putting on more than just muscle!
Step 3: Figure Out A Macro Split That Works For You
Once you've tacked on the extra calories to your TDEE, you’re ready to start dividing up your calories between macronutrients. While it would be nice if there was one macro split that was best for everyone, it’s not quite that simple.
Instead, organizations like the NIH have identified a set of ideal ranges for each macronutrient. You may have to experiment a little within these ranges until you find a split that you like and can stick to, but as long as you stay within the recommended ranges, you can ultimately split up your macros however you see fit.
Between 10 - 35% of your total daily calories should be coming from protein. As we’ve already mentioned, you absolutely need to be taking in enough protein in order to build muscle. A very common target people shoot for during a bulk is 1 + grams of protein per pound of body weight.
So for example, if you’re going for 1g of protein per lb of body weight, and you weigh 160 lbs, that’s 160 g of protein per day. Just to be safe, let’s just make sure that number fits within our ideal range for protein. Let’s say your bulking target is 2,800 calories per day.
2,800 x .10 = 280
280/4 = 70g
2,800 x .35 = 980
980/4 = 245g
(Protein has 4 calories per gram)
As you can see, our calculation of 192 grams of protein per day fits nicely within the recommended range of 70 - 245 grams.
Carbohydrates should make up the majority (or close to it) of your total daily calories. Somewhere between 45 - 65% of the calories in your daily diet should be coming from carbs.
Focus on consuming complex carbs and minimize simple sugars in your diet for a steady supply of energy rather than quick spikes and crashes. Taking in plenty of complex carbs 3-4 hours before intense physical activity is a tried and true way to make sure you have the energy you need when you need it most.
While it might have a scary connotation, you actually need a healthy supply of fat in your diet. Between 20 - 35%of your total daily calories should be coming from healthy fat sources, according to the NIH.
While you do need a regular supply of fat in your diet, you’ll certainly want to keep it in check. Unlike protein and carbs, which are 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories, so it can really add up quickly if you’re not paying attention.
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Step 4: Be Consistent but Don’t Bulk for Too Long
The keys to a successful bulk are patience and consistency. Once you find a calorie surplus and macro split that works, stick to them for an extended period of time! Building muscle is a gradual process -- in order to make the gains you’re after, you have to put in the time, both at the dinner table and in the gym.
But don’t bulk for too long. No matter what, when you eat in a calorie surplus you will gain some fat, regardless of how good you are with hitting your macro and calorie goals. That’s why many people switch between bulking and cutting phases, where they’ll spend an extended period of time packing on muscle mass and then shift to shedding the extra fat gained during the bulking phase.
While there is no one specific time frame that works best for everyone, many people opt to bulk for somewhere between 3-6 months. A popular time period to do a bulk is during the fall/winter so that by the time spring rolls around, you’re ready to start getting shredded for the beach.
How Much Should You Expect to Gain During Your Bulk?
As unfortunate as it may be, everyone’s body is going to react differently to a bulk. Some people may be able to pack on impressive amounts of muscle mass, while others may find it difficult to make anything more than minimal gains. While there are a number of different variables that affect your muscle-building potential, we’re going to focus on training experience.
The amount of time you’ve spent in the gym can have a lot of influence on your ability to build muscle. In general, people who have little to no previous experience with weight training are able to gain a lot more muscle mass in the same time period compared to individuals with extensive training backgrounds.
So if it’s your first time bulking, it is not unfathomable to gain 10+ pounds of muscle mass over the course of a 3+ month bulk. But if you’ve been training for over 10 years, for example, you’ll likely only be able to put on a couple of pounds during the same time period.
The term "bulking" refers to the process of taking in a surplus of calories in order to pack on additional muscle mass. However, building muscle takes more than just calories and exercise, it takes an adequate and regular supply of macronutrients.
In order to maximize your muscle building potential, you need an apply amount protein. Between 10 - 35% of your all your daily calories should be coming from healthy protein sources -- a common practice is to consume between 1 - 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight during a bulk.
You also need a healthy supply of carbohydrates and fat in your diet to fuel your performance in the gym and help your body to repair and rebuild all of its critical structures. 45 - 65% of your total daily calories should come from fat, while 20 - 35% should come from healthy sources of dietary fat.
Although a well-designed bulk can help to pack on a significant amount of muscle mass, it also leaves you susceptible to gaining unwanted body fat, which is why shouldn't bulk for too long -- shifting between bulking and cutting phases may ultimately be the best approach.