Lean bulking has started to be discussed more frequently in the gym and fitness magazines but what exactly is it all about? Basically, lean bulking involves planning out your diet so that you gain minimal fat and use the energy you consume to help gain more muscle. In its very simplest form, the idea is to eat more calories during your training period, to support muscle creation, and eat less on your non-training period, to avoid gaining body fat. So how do you get started and what kind of structure should you follow?
Ideally, if you are going to do lean bulking, you should be lean to start with otherwise its unlikely to be successful. You need to be around 10% body fat when you start out. Once you hit that level, you can start lean bulking. You should do lean-bulk phases over several months. You should aim to stay within the 8% to 15% body fat ranges throughout the lean-bulk cycles, cutting down to 8% on the lean phase, and up to 15% on the bulk phase. That way you should always have a six pack and fit appearance, while gaining muscle and bulking, without any excess fat.
When you are in an eating for muscle growth phase you need to be aware that there is only so much muscle growth you can do in a day, so you still need to be careful not to overeat as that will just get converted into fat. We spoke to one of the guys at Focus Performance who said “You need to balance your eating, with your workout routine, to make sure the nutrients and calories you are consuming are being used up to create muscle, and only muscle. It’s a case of only eating what your body needs.”
The reason you eat a surplus of calories on your training days is because new muscles can’t be created out of nothing. When we eat, our bodies need to get enough for:
- Energy to maintain life (breathing, pumping blood, etc.).
- Energy to carry out every day activities
- Energy to carry out fitness training
- Nutrients to help the body recover
- Nutrients to support growth
So when you are in a bulk phase, you are giving your body all the energy it needs to carry out all of these things, plus the extra it needs to build muscle. In the lean phase you are eating less energy than your body needs so that it taps into its fat reserves and consumes those.
When lean bulking – as a beginner, the recommendation is to eat 350 calories above their regular maintenance level, every day – which will allow them to gain around 3lb per month during the bulking phase. Those with more experience should go for 250 calories per day to gain around 2lb per month. The aim is to gain small amounts of weight on a steady basis. So what should you eat during the bulking phase? You need to make sure you include around 1g of protein for every pound you weigh, and the rest should be carbs and fats to create the rest of the calories required.
Once you hit that 14-15% body fat then you can go into the cutting phase, to get back to 8-10% while maintaining the muscles gained during bulking, that way you lose weight and fat but keep the muscle level. It takes some practice to get it right but once you do then you will look good all year round, maintaining your muscles and fit appearance whichever phase you are currently undertaking and you will find that you are able to bulk up without gaining fat, quickly and easily.
As you work out more and become more experienced with weight lifting then you will need to reduce the amount you bulk up by as there will come a point where you only have limited muscle gains to make and if you eat too much it will convert to fat instead. The more you train and the more muscle you gain, the less bulking you will need to do. Once you achieve your perfect results then it’s a case of moving into a maintenance phase to keep your physique in tip top condition. If you are planning to undertake a lean bulking programme and are starting out as a total beginner then you should seek advice from your personal trainer or nutritionist to make sure you get the balance right.
There are also plenty of fitness forums out there for people to seek support and advice on how to carry out lean bulking effectively. While there are formulas for how many calories are needed to gain muscle, just remember that everyone is different and your lifestyle and metabolism will all have an influence on how much you burn off and how much muscle you gain. That’s why it’s important to measure and monitor your results throughout the process, so you can adjust as and when needed.