Scientific Bulking Guide: Building Lean Muscle Mass This Winter
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Scientific Bulking Guide To Building Lean Muscle Mass This Winter
There’s so much nonsense, myth and mystery around building muscle, so it’s about time for a scientific bulking guide, especially as, queue Game of Thrones impression:
Winter is coming…
There’s a sense of time-urgency to physique training: you want to look good when it’s time to look good.
This usually coincides with the “off season” for bodybuilders. But for the rest of us it’s more about having the confidence for beach trips and hot summer days. This means that we tend to worry about gaining weight in winter, when hoodies are the most appropriate clothing. Then, shred down for budgie-smuggler season.
Today, you’re going to learn everything you need to know to make the most of “bulking season” and put together a winter muscle-plan. You’ll have to commit to getting strong now so that you’ve got a solid foundation when the sun comes back out and it’s time to burn that fat.
Time-relevance: Winter is Bulking Season
Why start now?
The reality is that body image is a big player in the way we feel about ourselves and being out of shape in the summer can leave you with serious FOMO (fear of missing out). Timing the gaining and losing of weight can really make this easier. It’s a cycle we see in nature all the time, but you’ve probably not thought about it too much.
The fact is you’re going to feel like changes that build muscle might be negative if you’re spending all your time getting your tan on at the beach. Gaining weight – even muscle – can result in a little bit of extra water retention. You’re probably going to gain a small amount of fat, and it can be tough to balance that with being less-dressed more often.
Winter provides the perfect time to be covered up. It involves big holidays that are built around food such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also, it’s generally the time of year when eating big feels more comfortable and appropriate.
The situation is perfect for committing to 3-6 months of serious muscle gains. You might get a little fluffy. But, with the right approach you can make huge progress on your physique and strength training during this time.
Muscle Bulking: Goals and Types
What is bulking? It’s gaining weight with the specific intention of adding muscle mass. For many bodybuilders and those training physique, it’s the part of your dietary cycle where you build muscle that will show up when you cut later in the new year.
For the rest of us, however, it’s just going to be about adding muscle and getting stronger. You don’t need to be as extreme if your goals aren’t maximum muscle all the time. You can take a more-measured approach to dieting and still see fantastic progress in muscle gains. This is clearly not just a time for bodybuilders, but for everyone to get stronger.
There are really just two staples of a bulk:
- eating more than you burn
- a focus on more-aggressive overload in training
A calorie surplus is not optional.
You don’t get to gain optimal muscle without feeding your body more than it burns. This is a tough one to deal with if you’re new to physique or strength training. But building muscle means you need to eat more calories – not what you normally get from a diet.
It’s easy to be skeptical when adding calories to your diet since you’re obviously going to try and keep bodyfat low. However, if you’re moderate with it – say around 10-20% more calories a day than you burn – you’ll see much greater muscle gains than fat. This is especially important since its far easier to burn extra fat than it is to build muscle!
Training should focus on strength and volume.
This is how you gain muscle and get stronger, but during a bulk you can be more aggressive – you can put your foot down a little more in training. Recovery and proper pacing is essential. But when you’re eating more calories than you’re burning, you have the ability to recover and grow more during rest and recovery periods.
This means that you can add extra volume to your training. Either by increasing the number of total reps, the number of reps per set, or the weights you’re using. Keeping up progress by varying these different factors during your bulk is going to be key and we’ll discuss it below. The short version is this, however: when you’re bulking, it’s time to focus on absolute strength and muscle gains.
You’re recovering more, so you can handle more, so you can get stronger faster.
Different Approaches to Muscle Gain and Bulking
When it comes to bulking, there are a few schools of thought on how to best-approach your muscle gains.
How Fast Should You Bulk?
For an untested bodybuilder using plenty of high-quality anabolic steroids, a hard bulk of gaining dozens of pounds of muscle mass is a good idea. For the rest of us, that speed is a real problem. If you’re trying to gain dozens of pounds over the next few months, most of it will be fat. Taking a reasonable pace is essential if you don’t want to spend half a year cutting down after your bulk.
Ideally, a bulk should last around 4-6 months. This ensures that you’re muscular when the summer comes around and you can shred down. If you put too much weight on during your bulk, you’re going to have a much harder time cutting down again. Especially if you’re not even gaining adequate muscle.
Bulking and over-eating aren’t the same thing: you need to pick a calorie surplus and stick with it.
Depending on how much you weigh, you can add around 10-25% of your maintenance calories to get to a good bulking intake. This means you’re probably going to be building around a pound of muscle every week or two (depending on your experience level). This will probably be a surplus of around 300-800 calories a day.
What Food Are You Bulking On?
The second question for a bulk is the kind of foods you’re going to be eating. This is a concern because the “clean bulk” is a real struggle. This is about eating the same healthy, ‘clean’ foods that you’d eat on a cut, but just increasing the amount you consume.
It’s totally possible, but the way that you structure it requires ridiculous willpower for very few benefits. You’re not going to gain much more muscle or much less fat (if any). But you are going to have to eat far more often and practice ridiculous discipline. The trade-offs really aren’t worth it – especially if you’re going to be practicing a very tough cut in the future, too.
The Dirty Bulk
The obvious alternative is referred to as a “dirty” bulk. This is an “if it fits your macros” approach that focuses on getting in your calories and hitting the macronutrient goals you’ve set out. This is an easy way to gain weight, since it prioritizes hitting the essentials, but that’s really not enough.
When we look at how to bulk effectively, it makes no sense to throw dietary quality out with the cut. A dirty bulk – or IIFYM in general – is the kind of diet where you eat chicken breast until you hit your protein goals then cram junk food into your face until you hit that calorie surplus. It should be obvious that this isn’t a complete approach to your diet!
Moderate, Healthy Bulking Styles
The middle ground between these two is obvious. A diet that prioritizes a smart approach to gaining weight. That’s our goal with this piece. A moderately-clean, moderately-lean approach to becoming a muscle-building machine.
The first option is recomposition. This is often discussed like it’s a unicorn: mythical, beautiful, and impossible to find. In reality, it’s totally possible to gain muscle and burn fat at the same time and we’ve got plenty of scientific evidence to prove it.
Recomp requires a small deficit, plenty of protein, and a smart approach to getting lots of plant foods into your diet. You can gain about 0.2% of your bodyweight in muscle mass per week while losing 0.9% of your bodyfat per week. This adds up and might be a great “go-between” if you’re coming off of a cut (or it’s not gone well) and need a month of maintenance.
Our Solution: The Scientific Bulk
The second option is what I like to call a “scientific bulk”. This is a simple, effective bulking protocol that works almost all the time. It balances dietary freedom with dietary quality. You’re not going to be eating 5lbs of chicken and broccoli every meal, but you’re not living on pop tarts and protein shakes, either.
This is a ‘lean’ bulk, but not a perfectly-clean one. This means you’re going to restrict your calorie surplus to around 500. Thus allowing you to consistently recover from workouts and gain strength/size without adding a foot to your waistline!
It starts by prioritizing your protein intake – ideally from a great plant or fish source. This is essential for muscle gains. From there, you should prioritize getting your high-quality foods in: fruits, veggies, wholegrains and other nutrient-dense foods. This includes healthy fats from fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and coconut oil.
Once you’ve done that, and you’re thinking about how to get those extra 1500 calories for the end of the day? Ease off the restrictions and have a pizza or some other form of high-calorie food.
This doesn’t mean you should go full-throttle with your favorite junk food. But it does mean you don’t have to restrict yourself once you’ve already got the good stuff in.
This is the key point of a balanced bulk: you only need to worry about nutrient density until you have all the nutrients you need. Once you’ve hit those daily goals for vitamins and minerals, you don’t need to worry about how many vitamins and minerals are left. You also don’t have to stress about the type of fats/carbs/proteins you’re eating.
Ideally, you should be getting a maximum of 20-30% of your calories from these ‘luxury’ foods. But that’s 20-30% of your diet that will allow you to enjoy yourself and keep you on-track for the rest of the day.
Supplements For Scientific Bulking
A good diet is 90% – supplementation can make a difference in that final few % where you’re looking to bring out the very best in your body. We’re going to focus on the stuff that definitely works and is worthwhile. Many supplements fall down on one of these two criteria.
Creatine is the best bulking supplement. It boosts your ability to build muscle, while also increasing your capacity for strength-endurance. This means you’re going to gain muscle when you train and you’re going to be able to train harder.
Cod Liver Oil Is a great joint-support supplement – essential if you’re going to be adding in extra work volume. It’s going to be a key supplement since you probably won’t be eating enough fish to get it from diet alone, as well as being cheap and effective. If you’re vegan, then an algae oil omega-3 supplement is the next best thing.
Vitamin D is the most commonly-deficient vitamin in the developed world. You’re going to need to supplement it for healthy testosterone production and hormonal health. As well as keeping your overall health high while you’re eating unclean foods.
A Brief Guide to Training for a Scientific Bulk
In truth, there’s not much difference in the way you should train for a cut or bulk. The only real difference is the quantity.
Your training is limited by your recovery and when you’re on a bulk this shoots up. If you’re feeding your body extra calories, it can do extra work. This means a few simple changes should show up in your strength training:
Aggressive Overload: you’re on a bulk, you can afford to be more ambitious. Overload comes in many forms. Whether its increasing weight or adding more total reps to every workout, but its about pushing yourself. During a bulk you’ve got plenty of raw materials, so put your foot down a little more in the gym!
Increasing Workout Volume: this is related to the previous point, but it’s a bit more specific. Volume is a measure of the total reps times the total weight you’ve lifted. Training volume is about how much work you do.
You should be increasing this in two simple ways. Increase the weight you’re using on big compound lifts and increase the number of reps and sets you’re performing with your accessory/bodybuilding work.
Train More Often: if you’ve got the time and the inclination, you can train more often on a bulk. This might mean going up to 4 or 5 days at the gym from a simple 3.
While you can recover more effectively, it’s good to get in more technical practice and hypertrophy work during this time. This will help you add weight in the long-term, prepare your joints for future gains, and gives you a better chance of growth.
Joint Health Gains: this is under-discussed, but your joints need you to bulk every so often to stay healthy. A calorie surplus is great for providing the raw materials your body needs to strengthen ligaments and tendons.
These connective tissues might not be a big deal for your appearance, but they are strengthened just like muscles and require protein and calories to do it. This is easier if you focus on adding more accessory/bodybuilding style workouts or increase higher-stress exercises like eccentric training.
Forgotten Body Parts: while you’re winter bulking and hiding under hoodies, it’s a great time to add some mass to the silhouetting muscles. This means the traps and forearms, shoulders, and lats. Traps, core, and forearms are underrated muscles that respond well to strength and massing, so prioritize them.
The point of scientific bulking during winter is to capitalize on the freedom to eat big during the holiday season. Also to build up absolute strength, and enjoy being big and strong during hoodie season.
It comes with its own challenges, but if you do it right it can be a perfect time to make serious improvements to your physique.
If you’re going to get into a bulk, timing can be a big deal. If you approach a scientific bulk with the right mentality and effective training, you can add a huge amount of muscle over winter.
Make sure you get your cut right, and you’ll be able to totally transform your physique by next summer!
A Simple Recap Guide to Scientific Bulking:
Calories: Find your maintenance calories (also called TDEE) and add 500 calories or 20%.
Macros: as much protein as you can realistically get, carbs in proportion to how much training volume you’re doing, and fats until you reach your calorie goals. 30% calories from protein, 40% carbs and 30% fats is a decent starting point.
Supplementation: Only use the stuff that works for scientific bulking. You should prioritize a good testosterone booster (which includes an optimum Vitamin D dosage), creatine, cod liver oil, as well as a top-quality pre-workout to improve workout performance. These will provide the best bang for your buck.
Strength Training: this is how you build muscle. Train hard, focusing on an aggressive approach to overload and making sure you are only training hard enough that you can recover from. Increase your work on isolation exercises, too, if you’re looking for muscle size first and foremost.
Cardio: yes, you should be doing cardio still. Try to get a session or two in every week just to keep your health in check and maintain a healthy hormonal profile. Too much time without aerobic training will only make you unfit and worsen your health.
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No gains, no glory! 💪
Professional b-boy (breakdancer) and all-round health, fitness, weightlifting, calisthenics, climbing and movement addict since childhood! Raised by health and nutrition obsessed parents, he’s keen to research and question everything. Oliver absolutely loves learning, optimizing and improving himself and his performance and has a passion for helping others to achieve the same!