Alright, so it’s winter and you want to put on some weight. As men we have the luxury of being under layers of clothes in pretty much any situation we’d find ourselves in throughout the cold months of the year, so this is the best time to go into a bulking stage before the weather turns.
What is bulking?
Bulking is a cycle of bodybuilding that involves increasing size. Pretty self-explanatory. Is bulking for everyone? Of course not. If you’re either at or over your goal weight and physique then bulking probably is not the option. However, there are definite benefits of packing on a few pounds for certain individuals. So, let me explain bulking as well as the other bodybuilding cycles.
Bulking is one of three cycles for a traditional bodybuilding-type yearly routine. We bulk in the winter to put on size. Because it is essentially impossible without certain illegal substances to put on solely muscle, the bulking stage adds both muscle and fat to gain weight.
After Bulking we move into the cutting cycle. The goal here is to trim fat while retaining as much muscle as possible. Again, losing all fat and no muscle is about as likely as finding Bigfoot riding a unicorn in your back yard. However, muscle loss can be minimized when cutting is done right. I’ll revisit cutting in detail as spring approaches and bulking season comes to an end.
Finally, the last stage is maintenance. After you’ve cut for a few months and trimmed down to an ideal body fat percentage so that you’re looking good as you strut around the beach, you want to maintain that physique. Generally, this time period lasts through the summer and maybe into the fall, depending on how long you want the lean look you’ve achieved.
So why bulk?
So with that knowledge, why even go through the process unless you’re a bodybuilder planning on entering into competition? I’ll answer that question with a question: are you currently at your goal weight / body fat percentage? If the answer is no and you are under your goal weight, or around your goal weight but not at your ideal body fat percentage, then bulking is a viable option.
With bulking you will shoot over your ideal weight and body fat percentage significantly, with the intention of cutting down to meet your goals. If you want to be 175 lbs at 12% body fat, then you may bulk up to 190 before you cut.
The reason bulking becomes a yearly activity is because everyone’s body is different and there is no perfect formula. You may think you’re going to bulk to 190 but only get to 180, then go down to 167 when you cut, landing below your 175 pound goal. So we go through trial and error until we can hit our goal and maintain from there.
How do I bulk correctly?
This is an important question. As I mentioned before, you will gain fat when you bulk. This is reality. However, you can bulk in a way to gain minimal fat. This is done through gaining strength, balancing nutrition, and being both smart and patient. Here are some tips to help you out:
1. Lift heavy: If you’re getting stronger, you’re gaining size. That is a natural progression of the human body. You’re tearing muscle and then rebuilding it bigger and stronger. Find a program that will have you consistently hitting the gym throughout the winter to increase your strength. Track your exercises each week to make sure you’re improving. Increase strength, Increase size.
2. Eat more calories than you burn: The concept of calories in versus calories out is something that everyone needs to drill into their heads. This is true for gaining or losing weight. Eat more than you burn, gain weight. Burn more than you eat, lose weight. Ads or magazines will try to sell you on products or plans that “unlock the trick” to manipulating weight. Just focus on calories in versus calories out. In the case of bulking, make sure In is greater than Out.
That being said, be smart about this. If 2400 calories a day is what maintains your body weight, don’t start eating 6,000 calories a day. Your body will be overwhelmed and unable to process that many nutrients, which leads to significant fat gain, and that’s not what the goal is for this article.
3. Watch your macros: I can guarantee you can expect an article in the near future about the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) diet, also called flexible dieting. I’ll save the in-depth analysis for another time, but this diet plan essentially says you can eat whatever you want as long as what you’re eating meets the daily protein, fat, and carbohydrate numbers you set for yourself. That being said, you’ll never hit your macros with pure fast food and desserts. But you can indulge plenty within that structure.
Protein is the most important here because it is the nutrient most important for building muscle. Experts in bodybuilding and nutrition will often recommend 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, so be sure to factor this into your macros.
That being said, don’t fear carbs and fats. You still need both to have a well-rounded diet, support muscular growth, and to have energy for your exercise. Position your macros so you are over maintenance calories, but not overwhelmingly over them.
4. Don’t run from running: A lot of bulking programs treat cardio like a pure evil that can’t even be discussed during winter months. However, a few sessions of light cardio a week does great for the body. You will increase your heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body as well as increase the function of oxygen in your cells. This will help your body train harder when you are doing grueling strength training.
Additionally, you may or may not know that a fit, healthy individual burns more fat during rest than someone who is significantly out of shape. This contributes to the idea of “lean” bulking, or bulking correctly.
5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint: Sure, you could slam fast food everyday and gain weight a lot faster than bulking correctly, but your body will not be better off for it. You’ll be gaining more fat than protein, leading to a body composition that will be unflattering. What you want is to gain weight slowly and consistently to keep excess fat off and maintain health.
I had a friend back in college that bulked from 140 up to 190. He felt both uncomfortable and unhealthy. With that type of weight gain you also add a significant puffiness to your face, which made my friend almost unrecognizable as well. Now he was experimenting at the time, as he’s a fitness professional. He will tell you that lean bulking is a much more effective method for achieving your overall goals in a healthy manner.
The pieces are all there to have a healthy, effective, bulking season. You want to increase your strength, watch your nutrition, and achieve realistic results through patience. If you follow the guideline set above, you can pack on some pounds during winter while not having to worry about showing up at a party and having people think there’s an issue in your life causing you to overeat.
Be patient with yourself and remember as well that you probably aren’t going to strike gold on your first bulk. If it’s your first time bulking, learn about your body. Track your progress and your nutrients and see what type of results you get, and think of how you can adjust during next year’s bulk.
Finally, you may be thinking “I dunno man my girlfriend is probably not going to be thrilled when i start packing on the pounds.” Well, the marathon versus sprint argument is for everyone here. If she can’t handle you a bit bulky, she doesn’t deserve you when you’re shredded.
Good luck! See you in cutting season!