What Does “Bulking” Mean?
“Bulking” is a term commonly thrown around in the weightlifting world, but I find that many people don’t really know what it means – especially if they are new to the whole thing.
Basically, bulking is when you are deliberating trying to gain weight, which is accomplished by consuming more calories than you normally would.
The goal of bulking is typically to put on as much size and strength from your workouts as possible.
How To Bulk
At its most basic level, bulking is very straightforward…
You just need to eat more than your TDEE, which is the level of calories you need to maintain your current weight.
As a general rule of thumb, if you consume 500 more calories per day than your TDEE then you’ll put on about 1 pound per week.
This obviously varies from person to person – but for most people it is a good enough approximation to be useful.
In terms of macronutrients, you want to be getting at least 1 gram of protein per lean pound of body mass while bulking.
So if you weigh 200 pounds, and are 10% body fat, then you want to be getting roughly 180 grams of protein per day at a minimum for your bulk.
The rest is more variable, but bulking traditionally emphasizes carbs over fats to get those additional calories – although this is not a hard and fast rule, and many people choose to substantially increase the amount of fat they consume as well.
Slow vs Fast Bulks
Now that we’ve covered the basics, I want to get into the 2 main types of bulking that people generally do: slow controlled bulks, and fast eat-everything-in-sight bulks.
As you might imagine, depending on which method you choose, you could end up taking in wildly different numbers of calories above your TDEE.
Slow bulks (or lean bulks, as they are sometimes known) will really try to minimize fat gains, having you only put on a steady .5-1 pound per week.
This is based on the school of thought that there is a finite amount of muscle mass that you can gain per week, even under the best of circumstances, so anything in excess of that will just be stored as fat.
Fast bulks or ‘dirty bulks’, on the other hand, will have you eating far more calories above your TDEE – typically as many as you can feasibly shove into your mouth per day.
The first approach is more conservative, but requires a greater attention to the nuances of your diet, and may not maximize muscle gains if the amount of calories that you’re eating each day isn’t high enough. Working with one of our expert trainers via online fitness coaching is a great way to ensure that you’re eating enough calories to see consistent muscle growth.
The second approach is far simpler, but it is also pretty easy to go overboard with it and put on too much fat, as I discuss in this article.
The reality is that if you are already past that newbie period of your training – where you are often able to put on muscle and lose fat simultaneously – you will need to do some kind of bulk if you are looking to put on any appreciable degree of muscle mass.
As a trainer, I find that many people are scared of bulking. They don’t want to get fat, and this is completely understandable.
However, the truth is that you can’t have everything at once, and if you want to build muscle you will often have to put on a little fat on the road to getting there (which can be burned off after the bulk).
For most of my clients, I tend to recommend a more conservative, slow bulking approach.
In my experience, there is a limit to the amount of muscle that you can put on per week – and it can be very frustrating if you put on a ton of fat during your bulk, that you’ll only have to spend more time getting rid of during your next ‘cutting’ period.