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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau, ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
Updated On: December 26, 2023
Are you looking to gain weight and pack on some serious muscle? Sounds like it's time for a bulk!
Bulking is a bodybuilding phase in which you eat in a calorie surplus to gain weight and build muscle. It works alongside several other phases, including cutting, maintenance, and contest prep. While these bodybuilding phases are crucial for professional lifters, many recreational lifters also bulk and cut as a way to add mass and then reduce body fat.
Part of a successful bulk is eating the right foods to gain muscle while keeping your body fat under control. We're about to get into the 14 best healthy bulking foods, which when combined with a good muscle-building workout and some patience, will lead to serious weight gain.
Table of Contents:
Before we get into our list of best bulking foods, we're going to quickly explain why we chose the foods we did and why it matters. To get right into our list of best foods, keep scrolling.
The best way to bulk for muscle building is to eat high-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, include a mix of carbs, protein, and healthy fats, and track your foods daily.
Bulking requires eating 10-20% more calories than your body typically needs while following progressive overload in your resistance training program. And, you shouldn’t eat anything and everything to see the scale increase as much as possible and as quickly as possible. That would be considered a dirty bulk (we'll discuss this later), and it will lead to more fat gain.
Instead, choosing foods from this list will help you add muscle mass without too much additional fat. Stay consistent with your bulking program for 12-16 weeks, or even longer, and you'll see great results.
Let's get into our list of best foods for bulking so you know what to eat while trying to gain muscle.
We'll first provide a list of our top 14, and then we'll briefly discuss each in more detail, including nutrition information for each.
The 14 best bulking foods for gaining weight are:
Note: The macro information is an estimate and may vary. Use a food tracker, like MyFitnessPal, for a more exact macro counting breakdown.
Opting for leaner cuts of ground beef will significantly reduce calories and increase protein. This is one of our favorite good bulking foods as beef is highly versatile in how you prepare it and what you can make using it.
You’ve heard the term meat and potatoes, right? Well, it’s a fantastic option for anyone looking to gain weight. You can also try including ground beef in one of these delicious high protein meal prep recipes.
Nutrition Facts per 4 oz serving: 200 calories, 11 grams fat, 0 grams carbs, 23 grams protein
There are several leaner cuts of fish that have much less fat, but salmon contains benefit-packed essential fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon contribute to all the body's processes, including preventing muscle loss, increasing growth hormone, and forming muscle glycogen.
It's one of the best high calorie foods for bulking you can eat! It's also one of our favorite foods to eat after a workout (assuming you're not working out at 5 a.m.).
Nutrition Facts per 4 oz serving: 234 calories, 14 grams fat, 0 grams carbs, 25 grams protein
If you are looking for something with a dessert-like taste during your clean bulk, Greek yogurt is a must in your quest to find the best food for bulking.
Greek yogurt has a higher protein content than other yogurts and significantly less sugar. Top it with fruit or berries, and you have a delicious muscle-building treat. Because it's so easy to turn into a meal, Greek yogurt is one of our favorite foods to use in meal prep for weight loss!
Nutrition Facts per 6 oz serving: 102 calories, 0 grams fat, 6 grams carbs, 17 grams protein
When looking for foods to bulk up, peanut butter is an excellent choice. Peanut butter, or your favorite nut butter, is a fast, easy way to add extra calories to your day. It has a significantly higher fat content, which is why it’s so calorie-dense.
Not only can you spread it onto various things, but you can also take a spoonful here and there throughout the day if you’re crunched for time. Plus, let's not forget it makes an awesome ingredient for protein cookies.
Nutrition Facts per 2 tbsp serving: 190 calories, 16 grams fat, 8 grams carbs, 7 grams protein
This may not be the staple of your meal, but cooking with olive oil or adding it to your food packs some fantastic health benefits.
It helps support healthy cholesterol, reduces inflammation, prevents blood clots, and is extremely calorie dense.
Nutrition Facts per 1 tbsp serving: 120 calories, 14 grams fat, 0 grams carbs, 0 grams protein
It’s important to note there are hundreds of different proteins, and the macros will vary slightly, so keep an eye on the label. This is a straightforward way to add protein to your diet while avoiding saturated fat to hit your body weight goal.
Check out our round-up of the 14 Best Protein Powders to find one to include in your daily meal plan! Whey protein is great for after workouts, while casein protein is a smart option for before bed.
Nutrition Facts per 1 scoop serving: 120 calories, 1 gram fat, 2 grams carbs, 25 grams protein
Cottage cheese is a popular bodybuilding staple since it contains casein protein. This means it’s slow digesting and will use its essential amino acids to build muscle for hours.
Try this before bed to keep your body building muscle overnight. This 7-day meal plan for muscle gain also shows you other ways to include it in a day of eating
Nutrition Facts per 1 cup serving of low fat cottage cheese: 160 calories, 3 grams fat, 8 grams carbs, 24 grams protein
Thighs get the nod over chicken breasts for protein intake when bulking since they pack more flavor (thanks to their slightly higher fat content). Like ground beef, this is an excellent bang for your buck food that is highly versatile in how you can prepare it and the things you can serve it with.
It packs in protein with some fat to help you build muscle. Alternatively, when you switch to cutting, you'll likely want to revert back to eating chicken breast, as it's a great high protein low fat food.
Nutrition Facts per 4 oz serving: 150 calories, 8 grams fat, 0 grams carbs, 20 grams protein
Eggs make the list due to their versatility, flavor, and protein. They also are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins.
It’s not the 90s anymore, and we now know some fats are good for us. Eggs are that kind! Trying adding a few to one of these tasty bulking breakfast recipes.
Nutrition Facts per egg: 72 calories, 4.8 grams fat, 0 grams carbs, 6 grams protein
Cheese is another good foods for bulking option due to the endless ways you can use it in your diet.
Whether it's by sprinkling some shredded cheese into your ground beef, having a slice of your favorite aged cheddar, or melting it into an omelet, cheese provides healthy fats and ensures a reasonable amount of protein.
Nutrition Facts per 1 oz serving: 116 calories, 9 grams fat, .7 gram carbs, 7 grams protein
Quinoa gets the nod as a fantastic complex carbohydrate source that helps your body build muscle.
It is a veggie protein source that's one of the best foods to eat for bulking. It can be a side dish or mixed in with your favorite animal protein source to make it a complete meal.
Nutrition Facts per 1 cup serving: 222 calories, 3.6 grams fat, 40 grams carbs, 8 grams protein
Oats are another complex carbohydrates and energy source that can be paired with protein powder, eggs, and fruit to make a full-bulking meal.
It helps you stay full for longer and provides a slow, clean energy source throughout the day.
For a delicious and filling meal, we highly recommend preparing a high protein oatmeal recipe! Your stomach and muscles will thank you.
Nutrition Facts per 1 cup serving: 300 calories, 6 grams fat, 54 grams carbs, 10 grams protein
Sweet potatoes act as another versatile complex carbohydrate source and contain no saturated fats. This can easily be replaced with white potatoes if you prefer them, and the macros are almost identical.
They'll satisfy a sweet tooth and fill you up. Talk about the perfect bulking food!
Nutrition Facts per 1 medium potato: 112 calories, .1 gram fat, 26 grams carbs, 2 grams protein
Brown rice has been a staple of muscle-building diets since the beginning of time. This is another complex carbohydrate that provides clean, stable energy and is also full of fiber to help aid digestion.
It can be added alongside any protein source to make a complete meal. We like including it in our high protein lunches.
Nutrition Facts per 1 cup serving: 150 calories, 1 gram fat, 45 grams carbs, 5 grams protein
To successfully bulk, you'll need to create a few individualized goals for yourself. We're going to list the three steps needed to create your bulking plan, and then we'll briefly describe each.
When creating a bulking meal plan, the three steps are:
Start by determining how many calories your body burns each day using a total daily energy expenditure calculator.
When setting up your meal plan, allot 45-60% of your calories to carbs, 30-35% to protein, and 15-30% to fat when bulking1. You can play around with these percentages some, as the ideal ratio will vary a bit from person to person, but 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fats is a good starting point.
Once you find your maintenance calories, increase it by 200-300 calories2. This should put you in a calorie surplus.
The key to bulking success is tracking everything you eat and your weight gain so you can measure your progress.
If you have consistently hit your daily calorie goals and still aren't gaining weight, try bumping up 100-200 calories the following week. Continue monitoring and adjust as needed.
This one-day bulking meal plan is for a woman following a 2,300-calorie diet and a 50/30/20 macro split. The goal of this sample plan is so you can see what a day of eating would look like for these caloric intake numbers. Use it for inspiration!
Nutrition Facts: 500 calories, 7g fat, 73g carbs, 36g protein
Nutrition Facts: 382 calories, 10g fat, 40g carbs, 33g protein
Nutrition Facts: 431 calories, 19g fat, 37g carbs, 28g protein
Nutrition Facts: 644 calories, 16g fat, 90g carbs, 35g protein
Nutrition Facts: 324 calories, 0g fat, 47g carbs, 34g protein
It's important to temper your expectations, particularly if you're an advanced lifter. The more muscle you have, the harder it is to continue increasing it. For example, an advanced lifter is lucky to gain 10-15 pounds of lean muscle in a year. Keep in mind, though, that if you already have a decent amount of muscle mass, 15 pounds of additional lean muscle is significant.
This also varies from person to person as it depends on how long you’ve been lifting, your goal weight, and your patience and consistency with the process.
There are principles you can follow to help you hit your goals. When bulking, increase your bodyweight per week by .25%-.5%, or around one pound per week, to ensure you aren’t adding too much fat.
Remember that the more fat you add, the more you will need to take off during your cutting phase to reveal the sculpted muscle you built underneath. Average bulking cycles run for 12-16 weeks and can go longer if you are highly dialed in with your diet.
You may be happy with your strength gains and the scale moving up quickly, but if you exceed a pound a week, you are likely also adding excess fat to your body. The goal is to build muscle, but you still want your body to be healthy and functioning at its best. Excess fat will only decrease that.
The goal of clean bulking is minimizing fat gain while building lean mass. Gaining less fat is a massive plus for this style, but staying motivated can also be challenging if the scale is moving slower than you would like or if it stagnates for some time.
Clean bulking can also lead to less flexibility in your program. Sticking to your macronutrient goals and daily calorie totals makes things like eating out or enjoying social events difficult.
The goal of dirty bulking is to eat a lot, including junk food, to gain weight. Dirty bulking can increase inflammation, promote insulin resistance, and raise fat levels in your blood stream.
Clean bulking will minimize fat gain but takes longer and has less flexibility. Dirty bulking can be a huge mental relief as you gain weight while enjoying your favorite foods, but it may damage the inside of your body while leaving you with extra fat to work off.
Any lingering questions on bulking? We'll answer them here.
A bulk can last as long as you want it to, as long as you can maintain slow, consistent progress without adding too much fat. An ideal starting timeframe is 12-16 weeks.
After your bulk, you can maintain or cut. You can hop right into a cut if you feel you added too much fat. This will allow you to strip away any fat gain and see all the muscle gains you built during your bulk. Sometimes it can be tough to go from surplus to deficit immediately. If this is the case, gradually decrease your calories to maintenance and then move into your cutting phase.
Yes! Healthy bulking food still fits perfectly into a cut. The only thing you have to worry about is portion sizes. The same rules apply, and you will still have calorie and macronutrient goals. You may swap out some of the higher-fat foods as they are higher in calories. Also, during a cut, you will have less wiggle room in your daily calorie goals.
For the most success when bulking, planning is key. If you don’t have suitable options available, you will more than likely default to eating junk food. Fruits are great to keep on hand for sweet cravings, while nuts and seeds add healthy calories from fats when you want something salty.
And, remember, when bulking using healthy foods, the gains will come, but it won't happen overnight.
Tracking, consistency, and honesty are key when beginning this journey. Do these three things, and you should have no problem adding some serious size during your bulking season.
Once you wrap up your bulk and are ready to show off your hard-earned muscle, start planning a cut using these 12 Best Foods For Cutting!
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February 20, 2024
February 20, 2024
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