Get Big, Stay Lean: A How-To Guide For Clean Bulkers
Summer is winding down and the cold weather is on its way. You know what that means: It's bulking season! And, as everyone knows, drug-free bodybuilders have to get fat to put on muscle, right? Wrong!
The truth is that packing on fat can actually be counterproductive to your long-term progress. Assuming your end goal is a big, lean, aesthetic physique, then that fat is going to have to come off eventually. So why waste time and energy putting it on in the first place? The more fat you have, the longer you'll have to diet.
Extended cutting periods increase the chance that you'll lose some of that hard-earned muscle. Dirty bulking may seem like a dietary joyride in the short term, but you'll be kicking yourself later if things get out of hand.
So, how do you stay lean while getting big? It's not rocket science, but it certainly takes more thought, planning, and daily effort than an eat-everything-in-sight plan would.
Doing The Muscle Math
You can't avoid fat gain entirely. Adding purely lean tissue is all but impossible—but here's a little math that can help you understand why.
Imagine you began training at 150 pounds with 15 percent body fat. If you gained 25 pounds of purely lean mass, you'd be sitting at 175 pounds with about 13 percent body fat. If you gained another 25 lean pounds, you'd be 200 pounds at 11 percent.
Over time, that kind of dramatic transformation is possible, but you can't do it all in one fell swoop. Nobody gains solely muscle; there's also always some fat, even a tiny amount. The question is how much.
Imagine you gained 22 pounds of muscle and 3 pounds of fat from the same starting point. That would put you at 175 pounds with about 14.5 percent body fat. Even if you gained some fat, you'd still be slightly leaner than you were before.
Depending on your goals and genetics, you may have to gain a higher proportion of fat than my example, but the point still stands: You can stay relatively lean because proportionally, you're adding more muscle than fat. Muscle gain doesn't have to come coupled with a belly.
Start Out Right
One of the most important aspects of a clean bulk is a lean starting point. Since you're inevitably going to see at least some fat gain, you need to be lean enough from the get-go to have some wiggle room. If you're not already comfortable taking off your shirt in public, you shouldn't be trying to gain weight! Plus, if you start out fat, you won't be bulking long before you need to switch gears and diet.
A high level of body fat may actually hinder muscular gains and lead to further fat gains! Large fat deposits send hormonal signals that mess with your body's nutrient partitioning, making it more likely that any given caloric load will be stored as fat. When you're lean, however, you've got a revved-up metabolism and a body that wants to build muscle, not store fat.
Time Your Carb Intake
Apologies to protein, but carbs may be the most anabolic nutrient you can consume; they will easily cause growth in muscle tissue and fat cells alike. Therefore, the key to lean gains is manipulating your carbohydrate intake for maximum benefit. The best way is to figure out how many carbs you need to fuel your workout and promote muscle growth.
Consume about half of those quality carbs in your pre-workout meal. Follow your training session with a glucose-laden post-workout shake, and eat the remainder of your carbs during your first solid post-workout meal.
What about breakfast? Most people don't need to eat carbs in the morning, unless breakfast is also their pre-workout meal. By limiting your carbs to the pre-, intra-, and post-workout periods, you keep your insulin low the rest of the day. Low insulin levels usually mean that you'll be less likely to store fat and more likely to burn a little body fat during the day.
So, unless you're super-skinny and struggling to consume enough calories, most of your meals should come in the form of protein and fats.
Keep Track of Macros
Each of us has an ideal mass-building macronutrient profile. So I can't make a blanket recommendation for the amounts of carbs, fats, and protein you need. I do believe everyone needs to track what they eat. If you want to gain muscle with minimal body fat, maintain a moderate caloric surplus. What's more, make sure that surplus comes from the right nutrients. An extra 100 grams of carbs or fats affects your body much differently from 100 extra grams of protein.
Plenty of free digital programs track proteins, fats, carbs, and calories. This extra effort will pay off big time, especially when you need to make adjustments down the road. When you know how much you eat each day, gaining or losing weight becomes a simple matter of math.
Don't fall for the current "if it fits your macros" craze, either. Sure it's OK to swap out white rice for sweet potatoes or whole-wheat bread for oatmeal, but don't think you can eat candy and ice cream every day so long as they fit into your carb count.
Weight gain and loss are a lot more complex than "calories in, calories out." Junk food has hormonal influences on your body and will not help you reach achieve optimal results from your hard efforts.
Slow and Steady
Allow numbers be your guide. Aim to gain 2-3 pounds per month; anything more is likely to be nothing but fat. More important than the weight gain, though, is what you do in the gym.
Muscular gains should go hand-in-hand with increased strength. If you're gaining body weight but not hitting PRs, you're just getting fatter!
If you start out lean and spend at least a year slowly gaining lean mass, you'll be amazed with your results!
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2-3 lb/month isn't radically different than 1lb per week.
I think that guys who have the small meal control and weight cutting experience will prefer to be slightly less meticulous about the timing and macro calculations required to put on (roughly) half as much fat as they usually bulk, and stick with their usual bulking regimen.
For those of us with erratic schedules and busier day jobs, getting minimum nutrients will be priority over how clean and calculated those calories are.
With all that being said, this article makes some fantastic points and has great information.
I'm sure many of us (including myself) will be taking some important ideas from it to wind up a little less husky while we bulk!
this is terrible advice. weight loss and gain IS as simple as calories in vs calories out. a carb is a carb when it comes to fat loss. When it comes to overall health its a different story but not for fat loss
Well, I don't know about you, mate, but I'd much rather be eating 44 grams of carbs from a cup of Quaker Oats than 44 grams of carbs from Twinkies for breakfast when I'm cutting.
Agree with Fenrir here. A carb is not just a carb. Many different carbs digest at many different rates. Whether people bulk or cut it's better to eat healthier sources of carbs. Lower GI fruits, vegetables, oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes/yams, are usually a much better choice than refined sugars and flours.
a carb is not just "a carb" per se. Oatmeal carbs will be different from twinkie carb because of the nutrients supplied with the oatmeal.
So is it really terrible advice from this article?
I would say "somewhat" because no one REALLY is gonna go their entire life on a "low carb/ no carb/ pre or post carb meal only" plan--that's really stupid.
at the end of day, it will always be calories in vs. out--that is the equation.
A carb is not just a carb. So sick of this IIFYM bro science. Tell me more about your phd in chemistry and physiology.
eat pop tarts on the daily and still getting lean, yall keep your sweet potatoes and rice....
Every carb is not the same, but every CALORIE is the same. Calories invs calories out is the way to go to manipulate your weight, however, it can be done more or less easily depending on what does calories consists off. It all comes down to the amount of time full per calorie. Thats why complex carbs are better, more satiety for less kalories, and because of the often better nutrient profile of complex carbs
It's interesting to see that the people who LOOK like they eay poptarts everyday, are bragging that they "can" eat them everyday... This isn't an article on how to be like everyone else in the gym, and be a "bulking" slob, and look the same every year. If you are trying to gain MUSCLE, every calorie in/out is NOT the same.
*Reads 2 articles on BB and goes to the gym for 1 week and becomes a champion lifter* - Wish I was that awesome
layne norton ate ice cream sandwiches pretty often when he cut for a competition, and is a firm believer in flexible dieteing, people who use IIFYM dont just sit around and eat **** all day.....
What amazes me is how much broscience focuses on looking good without any consideration of health. Eat like **** and pick up heavy stuff? Your body is still going to fall apart young.
Agree with all the others, a carb is NOT a carb. I have been diagnosed with insulin deficiency (basically my body doesn't do what it is supposed to with carbs but NOT diabetic). If I eat 200 carbs of gummy bears I will not feel or look the same as 200 carbs of sweet potato. I can only function well on nutritious carbs. And my doctor has said a hundred times how not all carbs are alike
LOL 21 year old kid has it figured out about ten years before he reaches muscle maturity. Nice. See me in
20 years bro, let's see how that plan works for you.
You have to take into account the type or carbs you are eating. Like previously stated, carbs from a tastycake and carbs from whole grain pasta or sweet potatoes react completely differently in the body
I know carb cycling works, got great results in the past. Carb timing though... that seems near impossible (at least on my schedule) I tend to do something called "carb tapering". More carbs in the morning, (oats) and taper off through the day, ending with my only dinner carbs being veggies. Some good points though, clean bulk is something I am struggling with currently...
Carb cycling is great! how I lost my belly quickly, then afterwards your body seems to burn fat much more efficiently as well. I have tried different timing with carbs, and I didn't notice a difference though. Might work for some people, but others maybe not. All I know is that carb cycling is great if you are trying to lose fat!
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