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August 20, 2021 4 Comments
If it's time for you to get bulked up with some serious, lean muscle mass, you've come to the right place. We are going to teach you everything you need to know about bulking. In this guide, we have both a clean bulking diet and workout plan for you to follow. And if you decide to do your own thing, the information below will still be useful for you as we go over key factors for both dieting and working out when bulking.
Bulking is generally a term you hear in bodybuilding. It refers to a phase of training when a lifter aims to build muscle mass (i.e. to bulk up).
You will often hear of two kinds of “bulks” - clean bulks and dirty bulks.
Clean bulks are generally slower and the goal is to minimize fat gain as you build muscle. With clean bulks, you prioritize healthy bulking foods and just enough of a calorie surplus to add some muscle.
Dirty bulks essentially involve eating whatever you want in order to gain muscle, with no concern for putting on fat along with it. Dirty bulks make it easy to enjoy a gigantic stack of high protein French toast, no calorie counting required.
Needless to say, a clean bulk is the ideal bulk. Like cutting is about losing fat while minimizing muscle loss, the real purpose of bulking is to maximize muscle while minimizing fat gain.
For the most part, when it comes to bulking, some fat gain is inevitable. But it can be minimal if done right. This is what our bulking diet and workout plan aims to do. We are going to teach you how to clean bulk with the perfect “recipe” of diet and workouts.
Note: Some studies suggest and people will claim that it’s possible to gain muscle while losing fat. We believe it is possible too, depending on the individual and diets. But even so, a little fat gain is ok when bulking and it’s not something to worry about so long as it is minimal. We are here to promote a clean bulk, but not a bulk completely free of fat bulk, as that is something we can’t promise. We can only promise if you follow this plan, you should build muscle with negligible fat increase.
Bulking is actually super simple! All you have to do is consume more calories than you burn and train hard.
To do this, you need to find your maintenance level using a TDEE calculator and then eat at around 300-500 above that. Just make sure the food is healthy and your macros are right and you will have a clean bulk. To get you started, we even have a great 7 day meal plan for muscle gain, which you can use for as long as you want to keep building muscle.
Of course, your workouts need to be adequately stimulating for muscle growth as well. Meaning you need to overload your muscles each week, and continue progressively overloading them over the course of your bulking phase.
Now, in theory, bulking is super simple, but staying consistent with both your diet and workout is the hard part, especially the diet, and even more so when trying to be clean about it. This means discipline and avoiding regular cheat meals is important. Good news for you, we are here to guide you along the way.
Here are some of the most common questions we get about bulking...
Unlike cutting phases, bulking phases are much more sustainable. There is a huge difference in consuming more calories than your maintenance level and consuming less. Your body is good at overeating and responds well to it.
Nevertheless, you can’t simply bulk non-stop without plateauing either.
Now, to answer the question, a bulk can last anywhere from 4 weeks to 6+ months. The longer your bulk, the more deload weeks and rest periods you’ll have in-between, but regardless, the macrocycle’s focus and goal is on bulking.
A bulk of 4-6 weeks is really an absolute minimum. Anything less and you won’t see much in the way of results.
As for longer bulks, there really is no time limit. Some people bulk for a year or more so they can build significant muscle mass, at which point they can worry about cutting. Without a solid frame of muscle, being low body fat won’t look all that impressive, it’ll look just skinny.
The only downfall to bulking is you will inevitably gain some fat. However, the cleaner your diet, the less fat you will gain along with your newfound muscle. Check out our list of best food for muscles for the healthiest, cleanest foods you can eat.
Because of this, most people aim for a 3-4 month. or even a 6 month bulking cycle, followed by a maintenance month (or couple weeks of maintenance) and then a cutting phase of 2-3 months. By doing this, in the long run, you can gain muscle while staying pretty lean. Especially if doing a clean bulk followed by a tapered proper cut that restricts muscle loss. This process works very well and most prefer it over just gaining a ton of muscle and fat over a couple years and then worrying about needing to shed off a lot of “sticky” fat that comes with keeping that fat on for so long.
What’s more, being cyclical about your bulking and cutting is actually good for your metabolism, which will keep you leaner year round, and breaking or avoiding plateaus.
In summary, a bulk can be any number of weeks or months or even years, but the best approach is 3-6 months followed by a shorter cutting phase.
It really depends on your fitness level, age, how long you are bulking, and your workouts, among other factors. However, we can answer this in a general sense, and on a micro time frame...
Most people, when doing a bulk correctly, which means they are eating over their mainteance level with enough protein and lifting heavy, can gain 0.5-2lbs of lean muscle mass per week. Beginners will be on the higher end simply because of the newbie gain phenomenon (it's just easy to gain muscle when first starting out).
Now, that being said, the higher end will also come with more fat gain. Anyone who says they put on like 20lbs of muscle in 2 months did not (unless they are taking steroids or sarms). Just because the scale says 20lbs doesn’t mean it's muscle. At that pace, much of that would be fat weight.
It’s typically best to aim for 0.5-1lb of lean muscle gain per week as this will allow for less fat gain. The slower and cleaner your bulk (i.e. aim to gain 0.5-1lb of muscle per week), the better. By doing this, you won’t have to worry about your body fat percentage skyrocketing.
On a more macro time frame, like 6-12 months, it’s really hard to say. You can’t gain muscle non stop because you simply can’t train progressively heavier non stop (this is why periodization is so important). Moreover, we all have a certain genetic potential.
For beginners, you can put on quite a bit of muscle over the course of 6-12 months with very negligible fat gain. In fact, if you have a really good diet, you can put on muscle while losing fat as a beginner. Nevertheless, at some point, even beginners plateau. But a beginner can really go quite a long time with linear gains, unlike intermediate and advanced lifters. A beginner will be able to pack on 10-30lbs of muscle in their first year on a “bulk”, which is not so much a bulk as it is just eating enough and lifting.
As you become more advanced, building muscle is trickier and not perfectly linear. It’s curvilinear. Progressive overload and periodization need to be applied appropriately. Of course, even with that, you won’t get newbie gains ever again without the use of steroids.
All in all, the more advanced you get, the harder it’ll be to gain muscle. An advanced lifter can, AT ABSOLUTE BEST, expect 0.25% to 0.5% of their total bodyweight gain as fat-free muscle per month. This means if you are close to your genetic potential, you may be able to put on 2-3lbs of lean muscle in a year. The further you are from your genetic potential, the more you can gain. So, again, it’s hard to answer this question as it is all on the individual. Not to mention, if they are taking performance enhancement drugs, as that completely changes things.
Some will argue that it’s not possible to lose fat while bulking (gaining muscle), but it is. However, rather than call it bulking, most would refer to it as “recomping” (body recomposition). This is generally the type of programming for beginners who are overweight or skinny fat. Recomping is a smart approach if you lack muscle yet you are overweight, but it's not the best for someone who simply wants to pack on muscle mass. A bulking program like we have for you below will do better to maximize muscle gain, but it will come with some (can be very minimal and maybe even none for certain individuals) fat gain.
It’s possible to bulk without getting fat, especially for beginners. You just have to eat a really clean, high protein diet (over your maintenance), take your bulk slow, and train heavy. Also, adding a little HIIT training into your routine or specifically-fat-burning cardio will help the cause. While bulking and cardio don’t seem to go together, cardio can be done in a way that specifically hones in on fat loss without any muscle loss. Plus, cardio in moderation, which we will go over in detail when we get into the bulking plan, will help keep your blood pumping strong to feed nutrients and oxygen to the cells for muscle growth.
If you’ve been lifting for a while, you will need to “bulk” to gain muscle. You can’t expect to be on a fat loss diet and gain muscle. However, if you are a beginner, you can build muscle without worrying about bulking. Be that as it may, you still will need to eat over your energy maintenance level. As you can’t gain muscle without that. So, technically, you’d be on a bulk. But you just don’t really need to think too much about it. You just need to eat plenty of food and get enough protein.
Note: According to this study - where a group of young men were able to lose 7 pounds of fat while gaining 3 pounds of muscle within 4 weeks by following a strength training program and increasing protein intake while at a caloric deficit - you can build muscle without bulking. So, as a beginner, the need to bulk is debatable. But, if you want certain muscle gain, then do a clean bulk.
It depends on where you are at in your fitness journey.
As a true beginner, you really don’t need to worry about bulking or cutting. All you need to do is eat good and train hard and you will see amazing results.
If you are “skinny-fat”, we recommend bulking first, but you could really go either way or just go for a recomp style program.
Related: The Ultimate Workout Plan for Skinny Fat People
If you are really overweight, you should start by losing fat, which means you will eat at a calorie deficit. The good news is, you probably have a lot of muscle under that fat from years of carrying all that weight around! You are going to look great after some months of cutting. Give our Cutting Workout and Diet Plan a go if this is you.
For intermediate and advanced lifters/bodybuilders, we don’t have to tell you what to do. Generally speaking, you will bulk when you want to build muscle and your body fat percentage is in the healthy or lean range and cut when your body fat percentage starts to get too high.
The most common for seasoned bodybuilding enthusiasts is to bulk during fall, winter, and early spring, cut a few months before summer, and then maintain their body fat percentage during summer. This is simply because it’s always nice to be shredded in the summer when you wear shirts in public or no shirt at all! Also, its nice to eat more food in the cold months (for those who live in the north).
As a man, if you are sub 12%, you can absolutely start bulking. Ideally, you’d pack on muscle and by the end of your bulk you’d be no more than ~15%. Once you are on the high end of the healthy range (approx 17%) it would be time to cut. For women, the acceptable body fat percentage range is from 24-31%, but most women who have been training seriously for a while will be sub 24%.
All that said, a lot of people these days don’t bother with this kind of thinking and they just try to keep it clean all year round so they can build muscle and keep fat gain to a minimum or not at all. If you use a very slow and clean bulking approach, this works.
If you are training to be a pro bodybuilder, then you will bulk in the off-season and cut before competitions, whether that is a month or two months out from comp.
While both a dirty bulk and a clean bulk will allow you to pack on muscle mass, a clean bulk is obviously the best choice as it comes with significantly less fat gains.
Clean Bulk (aka Lean Bulk): Controlled calorie surplus with healthy foods, 250-500 calories over maintenance per day.
Dirty Bulk: Uncontrolled calorie surplus without any concern of what foods you eat, 500+ calorie surplus per day.
Essentially, a clean bulk will involve closely monitoring what you eat and sticking to an exact calorie surplus range, whereas a dirty bulk you just eat whatever it is you want (sometimes healthy, sometimes junk, it doesn’t matter!) as long as you are in a surplus (which often times means you will be eating way over your maintenance level).
It almost goes without saying that a dirty bulk is easier to do, and for most, it’s a lot more enjoyable (who doesn’t like to eat tubs of ice cream and fast foods when they want?).
A clean bulk requires much more dedication and determination. But the good news is, it comes with way less fat gain, and for some genetically lucky people, quite possibly none at all.
In regards to muscle growth, some may claim a dirty bulk has better results on this front. The only way this is true is if the clean bulker is not actually eating enough due. It can be hard to really pinpoint your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and if you end up not getting enough calories and protein, you’ll be reducing muscle protein synthesis, and thus gains. Dirty bulkers really don’t have this issue because they are guaranteed to be in a calorie surplus. Again, this is why dirty bulking is easier.
Be that as it may, if you clean bulk and you make sure you eat enough each day, it is equally as effective as a dirty bulk for gaining muscle, without question.
Clean Bulk - Effective Lean Muscle Gain, Minimal Fat Gain, Harder
Dirty Bulk - Effective Muscle Mass Gain, Fat Gain, Easier
Most people who dirty bulk for a long time regret it because of how much fat they put on and how hard it is after to lose it. Just think of how the cutting phase will be when you have so much fat to shred.
The ONLY type of people who should consider a dirty bulk are hard gainers. If you are someone who has a lot of trouble gaining weight, then a dirty bulk might actually be good for you. However, most likely you are not this type of person, as the vast, VAST majority of us are not.
SO, for everyone besides true hardgainers, go for a clean bulk.
The name dirty pretty much says it all. Dirty bulking is certainly not healthy. It would be ok to do a dirty bulk for a quick-maximizing bulk period of like 4 weeks, but really any longer would not be smart. Even 4 weeks for people who easily get fat would not be good.
Dirty bulking is bad for a few reasons. It leads to excess fat (which comes with a whole host of health problems), poor gut health, hormonal imbalances, bad habit formations, likely poor micronutrition, and high inflammation. None of this is worth gaining muscle for.
Because of that, we do not recommend dirty bulking for anyone. This workout and diet plan is promoting a clean, lean bulk...or at the very least, a mostly clean bulk.
It depends on what you want to achieve. If your goal is to pack on muscle mass, then yes, bulking is necessary, but you don’t have to call it that. You are just eating at a calorie surplus and lifting heavy.
A bulk is necessary for gaining muscle because it ensures you are feeding your body with the nutrients and proteins needed to grow.
As for beginners, if you are unhappy in terms of both being skinny and fat, then you can try a recomp style plan that focuses on building a little muscle while losing fat. But you won’t have the same muscle growth that you would on a bulk.
You can bulk with just bodyweight training, but it will be more difficult to progressive overload.
With bodyweight training, you can progressively make your workouts harder by increasing reps, decreasing rest times, doing harder variations, training to failure, increasing time under tensions, etc.
With weights, you have all those same options, PLUS you can increase the weight load, which is arguably the most effective way to overload. Moreover, more strength allows for more hypertrophy potential.
All in all, you can bulk up (build muscle) with bodyweight training, it’ll just be harder and you’ll have to really get creative as you become more advanced. You’ll have a much easier ride (although still not easy) reaching your genetic muscle mass potential with weight lifting. Our program is a weight training bulking program, so if you only want to do bodyweight training, you’ll have to look elsewhere in terms of the workouts but diet info will still apply.
There are 4 main aspects of a good clean bulk...
Our ULTIMATE Clean Bulk Workout & Diet Plan can be any length of time. So, if you want to bulk for 3 months or 6 months, it's all the same. We will show you how and all of the same rules you are about to read will apply no matter what length of time you choose for your bulk.
First, we are going to cover the entire diet plan and then we will get into the workout plan.
Without further ado, let’s begin...
To build muscle, you must eat more calories than your body uses. You must also eat an adequate amount of protein as that allows for muscle protein synthesis to occur, which is the main process for repairing muscle damage caused by intense exercise, and thus, building muscle.
Extra calories inevitably comes with a surplus of carbs, which if unused during the day, will be stored for energy in the form of fat. There is nothing wrong with fat, it is good for you, as long as you don’t have too much of it. So, this is nothing to worry about on a bulk, but ideally, you want to keep the fat increase to a minimum and make sure you are using as much of it for energy each day. As such, timing of carbs is somewhat important.
Overall, you need to make sure your diet is balanced and you are getting enough calories each day. To do this, you need to track:
It may seem complicated, but it’s not. It can just be a little tedious keeping track at first.
Ok, so let’s start with your TDEE.
Total daily calorie expenditure is the amount of calories your body consumes each day. In other words, TDEE is your maintenance level. If you eat at your TDEE, then you will simply maintain your weight.
Since the goal is to build muscle, you need to be consuming more calories than your TDEE.
The easiest way to come up with your TDEE is to use a TDEE calculator. You can Google ‘TDEE calculator’ and a bunch of options will pop up.
The TDEE calculator will take all things into account, such as your gender, age, height, weight and activity level. Of course, it is not going to be exact, but generally it is quite accurate, so it’s the way most people decide on their maintenance level.
Tip: You can try a few calculators to see what the average is.
Obviously, certain days will have a higher TDEE and some days less (i.e. rest days), but overall it averages out and works quite well.
So, once you find your TDEE, you can set up a calorie intake schedule.
Note: Your TDEE will increase as you gain weight, so you will need to readjust your TDEE throughout the course of your bulk. It doesn’t have to be daily or even weekly, but every two weeks you should reassess.
Calorie Intake Schedule:
You won’t just jump from a cut to a bulk. And you also won’t just jump from a bulk to a cut. Both a cut and a bulk should be followed by a maintenance phase, which can be 1-4 weeks (or longer). If you've been cutting for a while, consider reverse dieting before moving on to maintenance and bulking.
Note: Men and women will typically see a range of 2,000-3,000 calories per day as their maintenance level (it really depends on how active you are and how much muscle/body mass you currently have). Nevertheless, most bulks will involve a +300-800 calories on the TDEE.
So, if you've just got off a cut, do a short maintenance phase, then you can start your bulking phase. This is the best way to keep fat off.
If you are starting from scratch, it's ok to just get right into your bulk.
Now, with a clean bulk, you don’t just want to jump right into +500-800 calories. Use a more gradual approach:
Week 1: +200-300 calories
Week 2: +300-500 calories
Week 3: +400-500 calories
Week 4-: +500-800 calories.
The reason we don’t just jump into the 500-800 surplus range is to allow our bodies to adjust and to minimize fat gain.
Another thing to note is that the gradual increase of calories at the start of your bulk can be slowed down even more (or sped up). It really depends on how long you are bulking for.
What’s more, these numbers can always be adjusted. If you notice you are gaining too much fat, cut back on the calories a bit and/or do a little cardio (2 times per week). OR, if you notice that you are gaining muscle on just a 300 calorie surplus, you could keep it at that rather than go up to 500.
NOTE: The higher end of the 500-800 range is for skinny guys/gals who are hard gainers, or those who are more advanced and muscular, as most people will do well with a 300-500 surplus.
Generally speaking, a clean bulk will have you at around a 500 calorie surplus for the majority of the bulk. While you can gain muscle with just +200-300 calories, the +500 range gives you more wiggle room and ensures you are in a surplus.
These numbers apply to men and women, but some men will prefer 500-800 and women 300-500.
Before completing your bulk, you should also taper the calories back down to maintenance before cutting. This will be easier on your mind and body.
Remember, as you gain weight, your maintenance level will increase, but this doesn’t mean your surplus will increase. For example, if when starting your bulk your maintenance is 3,000 calories, you will be eating around 3,500 calories/day, but in 6 months, your new maintenance level may be 3,500 calories, so you will need to eat 4,000 calories/day.
FINAL NOTE: Don’t think eating 6,000 calories a day is going to give you more muscle gain than eating only at a 500 surplus (i.e. 3,500). Ok, MAYBE you’ll have a little extra muscle gain with all those extra calories, but really you will mostly just be gaining WAY more fat. Your body only needs so much protein, everything else is a waste and all those carbs will be stored as fat. A 500 calorie surplus is the general rule of thumb.
There are three macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats.
You will want to eat the right amount of each.
For a bulk, a 40% Protein, 40% Carbohydrates, 20% Fat diet is best.
So, your total calories on the day should be made up of the above percentages.
All three are very important for your bulking journey. Carbs give you energy needed to lift heavy, protein is the structural support of your body as it repairs your muscles after a workout and builds them up, and fats (healthy fats) help you in many ways, such as maintaining healthy skin, hair, cell function, and body temperature, as well as absorption of micronutrients (like vitamin A, D, E, K).
While all three are vital, and you should be eating the healthiest, most natural sources of them all, let’s discuss protein in more depth real quick as its the key ingredient to building muscle.
During a bulk, you need around .8 grams of protein per lb of bodyweight per day. This is actually less than you should consume on a cut. However, it can’t really hurt to have more. Just aim to get a minimum of .8g/lb each day. The great thing about good protein sources like unprocessed chicken and beef is even if you eat too much, it won’t lead to gaining fat like carbs. Protein doesn’t cause fat, moreover, it burns more calories to digest meat than any other food.
Note: Some experts say to get as much as 2g per lb of bodyweight if you can! But, most would agree anywhere around the 1g/lb is more than sufficient in a bulk. So, if you are 200lbs, get 200g of protein per day.
Be sure to spread out your protein intake over the course of the day. You can’t absorb 200g of protein in one sitting. You’ll want to get something like 20-30g per meal. The same goes with your calorie intake as a whole. It's definitely best to spread it out pretty evenly over the course of the day.
MEALS PER DAY:
Don’t try to fit all your calories into one, two or even three meals. Aim for 5-6 meals and you will get the best results. This will allow you to use up your carbs for energy, rather than storing unnecessary carbs as fat, and you will be able to best absorb your daily macros.
Here is an example of how you’d eat 3,000 calories in a day.
While intermittent fasting is popular these days, don’t do it when you are trying to bulk. Spread out your calories and put them to best use. Your body only needs so much and can absorb so much at a time. Also, don't forget to save some of your allotted calories for your post-workout meal, which will help support your muscle-building goals.
TIPS - GET A FOOD CALCULATOR: Use a food calculator or app to input each meal so you know how much calories you’ve eaten on the day. This is the best way to know your macros and calories are in check each day. Or use a meal delivery service to eliminate the need to count macros or prep and cook your food. Check out our Trifecta Meals Review to see if it's a good option for you.
Let’s go over the best food sources for protein, carbs, and fats, then good supplements to take. After, we will give you an example of a meal plan.
Although there is no “bad” protein like there is with carbs and fats, not all sources of protein are good. You want to avoid protein sources that are high in bad cholesterol and simple carbs, such as processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, and sausages. A little is ok, but not every day.
The best protein will come from:
Try to stick the above. Think of processed meats as a cheat meal.
Before we get into carbs, we just want to make it clear that carbs are not BAD. Carbs = gains.
Because carbs release insulin, and insulin is an anabolic hormone that promotes both glucose uptake (needed for energy) and protein synthesis (needed for muscle growth). Moreover, carbs are an easy source of calories, and you need to be in a calorie surplus to gain muscle.
SO, don’t think you can bulk without carbs.
With that said, not all carbs are created equal and it’s easy to overeat carbs as they are in pretty much everything. This is just something to be aware of. A food calculator will let you know how much carbs you are eating as it will tell you how much are in each type of food you put on your plate.
The two main forms of carbs are simple carbs and complex carbs.
Simple carbs are sugary foods, white rice, white bread, fruits, veggies, dairy products.
Complex carbs are brown rice, wheat bread, and whole grain cereals.
Complex carbs will keep your blood sugar (insulin) leveled. Simple carbs spike glucose levels as they absorb quickly...But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat some simple carbs.
Honestly, bodybuilders and athletes like white rice and fruits when bulking. They have higher sugar content and faster absorption which helps support training and muscle growth.
This doesn’t make them better than complex carbs like brown rice either, it’s just that white rice is not BAD. Some simple carbs have their place in a bulking plan. You just don’t want to eat too much of it and at the wrong times.
Note: Simple carbs spike blood sugar, but so do some complex carbs like potatoes! So, not all simple carbs are bad and not all complex carbs absorb slowly.
All in all, you will not see us condemning white rice or fruits because they are simple carbs. We will not, however, promote eating sugary junk food like candies, cakes and chips.
The carbs you want to eat (in moderation, again 40% of your total macros) are:
Even white pastas are fine if eaten at the right time (i.e. early in the day for energy needed or after a workout). Eat what you enjoy when it comes to carbs, simple or complex, just make sure you aren’t overdoing it.
Just stick to the above carbs and eat them around your workout times (before and after) and a little at night and you are good to go.
Remember, carbs should be 40% of your macros.
While they are called fats, fats do not equal FAT. They are actually called Dietary Fats. When you are on a no carb diet, fats can be broken down for energy, but since you are bulking and will have plenty of carbs, your fat intake is there to help you with hormone production, which in turn helps you build muscle and get stronger. So, yes, fats are also crucial and like carbs and proteins, fats = muscle growth!
You have a few types of fats: trans fats, saturated fats, and unsaturated fats. Basically, you want to stay away from trans fats and limit saturated fats. Thus, you want the majority of your dietary fat to be unsaturated fats.
That said, many foods have both saturated and unsaturated fats, so don’t worry too much about all this.
Essentially, you just want to avoid foods with bad fats and focus on putting some foods with good fats in your diet.
Bad fats are found in snack foods, sweets, vegetable oils, fried foods, etc.
Good fats (aim to get 20% of your macros):
As you can see, a lot of your daily fat needs will come along with your proteins too. So, you are killing two birds with one stone often times and will only need to add a little extra into your diet maybe in the form of something like olive oil or avocados.
We have a meal plan breakdown a little further below that will give you a good look at your 40% P, 40% C, 40% F diet.
Supplements help fill the gaps of your diet. Often times, bodybuilders and powerlifters don’t get all they need in the way of pure food, so supplementation is necessary.
Really, the only supplements you need are protein and creatine, but you can also opt for preworkout, multivitamins and even nitric oxide.
Let’s break each down quickly...
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It can be hard to reach the daily levels needed for protein with just food, so a couple protein shakes a day will do the trick. They are easy and quick.
So, if you are having trouble reaching your daily protein mark, get some protein powder and maybe some protein bars. Be sure to check the ingredients before buying, some protein bars will be high in carbs.
Tip: If you don't mind spending a little more, get whey protein for day time and casein for before bed, as casein is slow digesting.
Creatine is essential for building mass and added muscle weight gain as it increases ATP production, which is energy for your muscles. Creatine ensures your muscles are fueled to lift heavy weights.
While you will get creatine from certain foods like fish and beef, it may not be enough. It can’t hurt to have more creatine, just to ensure you are getting enough, so many bodybuilders add this to their supplement stack. You may find creatine super useful, you may not, it’s definitely worth a try as a serious lifter.
Related: Creatine Monohydrate vs HCL for Muscle Growth
Preworkout is used simply to give you a boost of energy for your workouts. This can help you take your intensity up a few notches, which in turn will help with overloading your muscles.
If you think you are not getting all the vitamins you need from your diet, then get a multivitamin pack or a specific vitamin you know you need. This will ensure your micronutrient levels are where they should be. This is particularly important for people who have a limited diet, such as vegetarians who need certain vitamins they aren’t getting from not eating meat.
This one is kind of unnecessary, but it is an interesting option. Nitric Oxide has gained a lot of attention in recent years among pro bodybuilders as it is said to increase nutrient delivery to the muscles. This is something you’d want to take intra and post workout. It will allow you to keep up the intensity of your workout for longer and it aids in quicker repairing of muscles after. It’s also said to give a great pump.
Related: 12 Traditional Medicines Turned Performance-Enhancing Supplements
Here is a good example of one day of eating for someone on a bulking plan. This person would be doing their weight training session in the early evening (i.e, 4-6pm), which is when you will be strongest during the day).
Breakfast (high protein breakfast is best!):
Related: 7 Best Bulking Breakfast Ideas To Maximize Your Gains
If needed, you can have a protein shake before bed (this is when casein protein would be good as it is slower to digest).
What about a cheat meal? A cheat meal here and there is not going to hurt. Just try to keep it clean for the majority of the week.
No bulking phase is going to be successful unless you are training hard with the weights, and by training hard we mean lifting heavy (relative to your strength level) for both hypertrophy and strength.
This means you will not only need to be working in a hypertrophy rep range, but also a strength rep range, as the stronger you are, the heavier you can go in your hypertrophy range, and with that, the bigger your muscles can get. More on this in a moment.
When it comes to bulking, you are mainly going to focus on weightlifting, but cardio is optional depending on the individual. We will get into this more, but first, here are the main factors that you need to take into consideration with your bulking program.
Let’s go over each of the three.
Training variables relates to many things, but mainly we are talking about the exercises, load, reps, and rest time when it comes to bulking.
You are going to get the biggest bang for your buck with big compound exercises. They hit multiple muscles at one time making your workouts more efficient, they allow you to use the heaviest loads making your overall strength greater, and they help to boost testosterone which increases your growth potential. So, your workouts will revolve around some key big lifts. This should apply to people of all fitness levels.
Assistance lifts and accessory exercises will also be included to ensure that all of your muscles, especially the smaller muscle groups are being targeted adequately for muscle growth and to make sure specificity is addressed for each individual. Sometimes compound lifts end up neglecting certain muscles.
To give you an example of what we mean by specificity...
Let’s take the quadriceps as an example. A beginner is going to see great results for their quads from barbell back squats, but as they become more advanced, the back squat may not provide maximum stimulation needed for their quads to continue growing. So, they would have to add some more quad specific exercises into their routine, such as hack squats or similar alternatives. This doesn’t mean they will stop doing back squats, it just means that they need to add more specificity to their workouts as they advance to allow for adequate stimulation of all their muscles.
Overall, a more advanced trainee will need more variety/specificity. A beginner can really see some fantastic results with a far simpler plan.
Our bulking workout plan below is geared towards intermediate or even late-beginners as obviously they are most likely to be reading this. If you are an intermediate lifter, you can make some adjustments to the assistance lifts to accommodate for specificity for yourself.
Best Big Compound Exercises:
These will be the bread and butter of your bulking workouts no matter what fitness level you are.
Best Assistance/Accessory Exercises:
...and the list goes on and on.
For the bulking program below, all of the big compound exercises will be included, along with some of the assistance and accessory lifts we listed above. After a couple months, when you take a deload period (or rest week), you can restart the program and switch up the assistance lifts, but the big compound lifts should remain. While we will have specific assistance lifts for you in the plan, these can be altered based on your needs. For example, if your triceps are lagging, you can add another tricep exercise or simply choose an exercise that you feel works best for you.
Load & Rep Ranges:
Load is very important. You can't lift light weights and expect to get bigger. On a bulk, you need to lift heavy, relative to your strength level.
For compound lifts, you will be working for both strength and hypertrophy.
Strength: 3-6 reps at 85-95% 1RM
Hypertrophy: 6-12 reps at 70-85% 1RM
Essentially, you want a weight load that challenges you (brings you to near failure) for each set in the above rep ranges.
Our plan will mix both rep ranges, which is essential for a bulking plan. You need strength to maximize your hypertrophy potential.
The great news is, you can build pure size in any rep range from 1-16 reps.
For the assistance lifts and accessory exercises, you will be working in a hypertrophy rep range. So, these exercises will be in the 8-15 rep range.
The purpose is not to burn a ton of calories when working out, it’s to overload your muscles. Of course, you will get plenty of calorie burn, but it’s not the focus like it would be for a cutting phase. As such, you will take the rest time needed to hit your target reps with the appropriate weight load. This means you will likely be resting 2+ minutes on strength sets and 90-120 seconds on hypertrophy sets.
If you do all of this, you will overload you muscles, which will force them to adapt and grow (pending you are eating enough).
As for total volume, it depends on your level, but the overall goal is to hit 10-20 sets for each muscle group per week. You will see how we achieve that in our bulking workout plan.
Progressive overload simply means that you are increasing the intensity of your workouts over time so that you are always adequately overloading the muscles to force adaptation.
Basically, if your workouts are getting easier, you aren’t progressive overloading.
There are many ways to go about progressive overload. You can read this guide to progressive overload if you are curious. But in a nutshell, for a bulking plan, you will be increasing intensity, which means weight load. You can also play around with volume, but as a beginner or intermediate lifter, simply focusing on increasing your weight load when you reach maximum reps in the given rep range is best.
Here’s a simple example of how progressive overload will work for squats...
Week 1: 200lbs for 8, 8, 7 reps
Week 2: 200lbs for 11, 10, 8 reps
Week 3: 200lbs for 12, 10, 10 reps
Week 4: 200lbs for 12, 12, 12 reps (time to increase weight load!)
Week 5: 210lbs for 8, 8, 6 reps
At some point, you will hit a wall, at which point you will need a deload week. This is where periodization comes into play...
Periodization is a complex topic. So, for the sake of keeping things short and sweet, periodization for this bulking plan simply refers to a rest or deload week.
You can either take a week off or do the same workouts with less total volume (i.e. take one set off each exercise) and only use loads of 50-60% your 1RM.
Most beginners and intermediate lifters can see good progress for 8-12 weeks before their body becomes exhausted and in need of a rest or deload week.
Generally speaking, if you’ve been lifting for less than a year, you can go 10-12 weeks of intense lifting before needing a deload. If you’ve been lifting for 1 to 3 years, around 8 weeks before needing a deload week. And if you’ve been lifting for 3 to 6+ years, it's usually every 4-6 weeks.
So, when you deload will depend on your fitness level and how you feel. If you feel you have another week or two of progress to make and you don’t feel like you are overtraining, then continue with the plan. Nothing will change with the plan anyway, so you can deload at your own pace. After a deload week, you will try to start back where you left off at your peak (don’t worry if you don’t get the same number of reps) and if you want, you can switch up the assistance lifts and accessory exercises or even the order of the exercises. You could even change to another one of our workout plans and just employ the same progressive overload tactics. We will provide additional plans at the end. However, we recommend just sticking to the bulking plan below for the duration of your bulk if you are only bulking for 3-6 months.
FAQ ABOUT BULKING WORKOUTS:
Before we get into the workout plan, let us answer a few common questions...
We recommend at least 4 weightlifting sessions per week for most people. However, beginners could get away with 3 days per week.
Our plan is 5 days of weight training a week, with optional cardio 1 or 2 days, which can be done in mornings or on rest day. 5 days will allow you to really maximize your effort on those days as it provides plenty of recovery (3 days) each week.
Note: While our plan can be good for beginners, it's better for those between beginner and intermediate or true intermediate lifters.
Your workouts should take around 45-60 minutes.
Cardio is optional. If you are a true hard gainer, it’s probably best to not do cardio at all, as you will already have trouble getting enough calories and will likely be lean as is. For those who put on fat easily, then you will want to add 1 or 2 cardio sessions per week. Not only will hit help you restrict fat gain, but it is also good for your endurance (which can help your weightlifting too) supplying your muscles with nutrients.
There are two types of cardio you can do. HIIT and Low Intensity Long Duration. Both should be done in moderation.
With HIIT, you will do 10 minutes. With low intensity long duration, aim to do 30-45 minutes at a pace that makes you comfortably tired. Low intensity will be untaxing, so you should have no issues with it when on a 5 day weight lifting routine. It can even help with recovery from your weight lifting sessions.
You will not have to worry about any muscle loss with one or two cardio sessions per week if you do HIIT or cardio at low intensity for only 30-45 minutes per session. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The low intensity long duration will specifically target fat for energy.
Here is an example of a good HIIT workout:
As for Low Intensity Long Duration Cardio, you can jog on a treadmill or walk on a steep incline, cycle, row or get on the elliptical machine. Aim to be at 70% max heart rate for 30-45 minutes and that’s enough.
If you end up deciding against cardio and you notice you are putting on a lot of fat, definitely add it into your weekly routine! You really won’t be sacrificing muscle gain if you do it in moderation. It will only help you to minimize fat gain on your bulking journey.
You absolutely can, just be sure to do a deload week when you start to feel you are overtraining or just before. If you are feeling sluggish, it’s time for a deload week.
If you are sick of your plan and want to change things up, then you can do so every few months. It’s up to you. However, there is nothing wrong with sticking with the below plan for a long time if it is continually working for you. The only thing you really may want to do is change up some of the exercises and the order of the exercises.
Our bulking program is ULPPL, which stands for Upper Lower Push Pull Legs. This is a 5 day workout routine.Day 1: Upper (Strength)
If you want, you can move both rest days to day 6 and 7 so you have the weekend off! It’s up to you. But, each week you will do all 5 workouts.
Strength days will obviously focus on just big compound lifts using strength rep ranges and loads. You will be doing less volume, but will need more rest time between sets as you are using heavier loads, so the workouts should take around 45 minutes.
Hypertrophy days will focus on compound lifts, assistance lifts, and isolation exercises for hypertrophy. The workouts will have more volume and the reps will be in the hypertrophy range, but the weight load should still be challenging (approx 70-80% 1RM). Rest time should be kept to around 90 seconds between sets. This means you workouts will take around 45-60 minutes.
Cardio can be done once or twice a week on rest days or in the mornings. Cardio is not required, so implement it as you see fit and have the energy.
Benefits of ULPPL:
We will now run through the workouts. Afterward we will make notes of how to adjust and progress for your fitness level.
Notes for hypertrophy days:
This is a linear progression program. So, you should try to add a little weight or maximize the reps in the recommended range on a weekly basis. Your strength days are where the major focus of progression happens, but it will translate to heavier lifting for hypertrophy days as well.
Every 6-12 weeks (depends on you), take a rest week or a deload week where you do the same workouts with nearly half or two thirds of the load. You will need this rest or deload week every so often to allow your body to fully recover. You can’t continually progress for months on end without ending up overtraining.
If you have any questions about our bulking program, please reach out to us! We’d love to hear from you.
Other workout plans & programs:
Prepare to maximize your gains with our exclusive 12-week hypertrophy training program. Choose between a 4 or 5 day training split and gain 2-12 pounds of muscle over 90 days...
July 19, 2022
Hi @D! We would suggest adding core work to your legs day. If you take a look, there is one core move for each leg day already integrated into the plan (side planks and hanging leg raises), but you can always add more ab moves on to those days as well.
July 19, 2022
Hey guys – really great workout plan: clear, structured and methodical. One question on core/abs – any tips for integrating this into the workout routine ?
November 20, 2021
Also, you suggest that 40% of your daily caloric intake should be made of protein and in the same time 1g of protein per pound of body. As a 163 lbs man aiming for 2800 cal daily, 40% of protein would mean 280g of protein daily whereas 1h per pound of body weight means 163 g of protein. Would love some more info on that regards. Keep up the great work!
November 20, 2021
First, amazing value in this article.
I have read in an NFL player guide that you should decrease the weight set after set. What’s your take on this?
I’ve been training for years now with moderate results. I am playing competitive soccer and I need cardio. Would love to have a chat/advanced discussion with you to talk about diet and progression. Do you provide online coaching? Romain
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March 22, 2023
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