Building muscle is a lot easier said than done. Many believe that in order to bulk up you need a caloric surplus which means eating anything calorie-dense. This is partly true, but just eating anything can lead to more fat gain than muscle gain.
Going about a bulking diet the wrong way this way will derail your muscle-building efforts. Fat gain is unavoidable when clean bulking, but following our tips below will ensure that there's minimal fat gain and maximal muscle gain!
Find the optimal calorie surplus
To add muscle you need to add in extra calories – but don't go crazy! The ideal surplus is between 5-10% above your maintenance calories. To put that in perspective, if your maintenance calories are at 2,000 then you only need an extra 100-200 calories a day. As you can see, that isn't much! This will ensure that you don't gain more than 0.5-1 pound of body weight a week and it's mostly muscle not fat.
Skip doing the math and use a macro calculator to help calculate your surplus. That way you can keep track of macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) and calories! This brings us to our next point...
Track your macros
The best way you make sure you stay on track with your caloric intake and you don't overeat or undereat is by tracking them! But you don't want to focus only on calories, make sure to track your macros too. Focusing on only your calories can lead to under eating on protein and carbs which are necessary for optimal muscle growth.
Dial in your pre and post-workout nutrition
A big part of the muscle-building process is how you train at the gym, so you need to make sure you're doing everything possible to have a great training session and recover from it properly. This makes pre and post-workout nutrition extra important.
For pre-workout, we suggest having a meal 2-3 hours before your workout that has an adequate amount of carbs (good complex carbs, not junk). Consuming carbs before training will help enhance muscle protein synthesis and even fuel your performance. Taking a good pre-workout supplement can also help give you the energy boost you need to stay focused and push through more reps.
Post-workout is the most important when it comes to building muscle. You don't necessarily need to down a protein shake immediately after working out, but you should have it within an hour after your workout. Whey protein powder is ideal because it is absorbed quickly to deliver amino acids to the muscle tissues as fast as possible. Most importantly, it has the greatest amount of leucine compared to other protein powders, which is a key driver behind muscle growth!
Since you'll be in a caloric surplus, consider making a protein shake with fast-acting carbs like a banana, and berries, and add healthy fats, like nut butter for a calorie and nutrient boost.
Just remember, supplements are supplemental. They should not replace whole foods. Use them as a way to help you on your journey to bulking, and not a replacement for food.
Keep cheat meals to a minimum
The mistake many make when clean bulking is having cheat days or cheat meals filled with unhealthy processed foods because they think they need a huge calorie intake. This is actually dirty bulking. Dirty bulking involves meeting your daily calorie needs by any means necessary to promote serious muscle mass gain, while clean bulk is focused more on nutrients and a good weightlifting program to gain muscle.
Although it's okay to have a cheat meal here and there and boost the amount of calories you eat a day, overdoing it can lead to fat gain. Follow the 90/10 rule to ensure maximal muscle gain. Eat clean 90% of the time and you can get away with eating anything the remaining 10% of the time. That way you prioritize nutrient-dense foods, but still get to have a break and enjoy your favorite junk foods on occasion.
Don't neglect cardio
Although strength training is the best for clean bulking, you shouldn't throw cardio away completely! Cardiovascular training improves your heart health, it also helps improve your endurance which can with your weight training!
If you want to build lean muscle with minimal fat gain, implement at least two to three 30-minute sessions of cardio each week. But remember, you're bulking, so be smart about the type of cardio you do. HIIT, running, and sprinting, may not be the best to bulk because they could potentially lead to muscle loss (only if you're not eating sufficient calories). Stick to low to moderate-intensity cardio like jogging, walking on an incline, cycling at a moderate pace, hiking, etc. Find a cardio workout you enjoy and do it, don't force yourself to do it if you don't actually enjoy it!
Track your progress
Keeping track of your progress is so important! Aside from making sure you track your workouts (how much weight you're lifting, reps, sets), you want to make sure to track your physical progress. This means measuring your body weight, and body fat, and even consider measuring your waist, arms, chest, etc.
By keeping track of your progress you'll ensure that you're on the right track to bulking up while also giving you a boost of motivation! Just remember, that progress takes time. You won't get immediate results so don't get discouraged after a week or two, after a month you'll notice small changes on the scale and measurements.
Set a time limit
You can't bulk forever. Limit your clean bulk to 16-20 weeks, and you can either go into maintenance mode or do a mini-cut to reset your system. You may be tempted to continue your clean bulk, but the problem is that eventually your body will get used to it. After months of eating in a calorie surplus, your body will adjust to it and start turning those calories into fat as opposed to muscle.
So, switch gears for a few weeks! Cut back and focus on losing fat or maintaining what you've gained, and after a few weeks you can restart a clean bulk if you wish to gain more muscle!
Gain muscle, not fat by following these tips
Now you know how to clean bulk successfully! Just remember to follow an appropriate weight training program that helps you put on muscle and follow the tips we've mentioned above to get you on the right track.
Need effective, great-tasting supplements to help during your clean bulk?
373 Lab has your back! Our supplements are designed to help you achieve your fitness goals by giving you only the nutrients you need – no unnecessary fillers or additives! Whether you're bulking, cutting, or simply maintaining, we have the supplements you need to help make your journey an easier and healthier one.
Find what your pantry is missing at 373 Lab Supplements.