Lean bulking… I hear this term a lot these days. As opposed to a “normal bulk” where you eat whatever you want, gain muscle and fat, then diet the fat off later, a “lean bulk” is where you try to minimize the amount of fat you gain.
To be completely honest with you I really dislike the idea of bulking, always have. In my experience it works sometimes for men between the ages of 25 and 30, and for almost everyone else it’s a disaster that ends up with much more fat gain than anyone wants to admit.
However, regardless of my past experiences, bulking is becoming a bit of a thing right now, so I’d like to weigh in with my ideas on how to “lean bulk” properly.
Firstly, most people have the idea that “bulking” is a time to loosen up and eat more food with a more relaxed approach than you would use if you were trying to diet to lose fat.
I think the correct approach to lean bulking is exactly the opposite.
While I am all for a relaxed approach to weight loss, I feel that attempting to gain weight should be a highly monitored, very strict, and analytical approach to eating.
If you mess up on a diet, then it’s not going to be effective… chances are you’re not going to gain a ton of weight, you just won’t lose as much as you want to…
If you mess up on bulking it can be disastrous. You can gain excessive amounts of body fat, and I think you may even predispose yourself to future difficulties losing fat.
We’ve seen a consistent trend in research that shows Body fat increases during periods of overeating can represent anywhere from 50% to more than 90% of the excess stored calories, and insulin resistance can start to develop after as little as two weeks of overeating (albeit this is without exercise).
Yes, if you overeat then measurements of your lean body mass will go up. This is found in almost every study on overeating. However, this lean mass is never all muscle…
During the first 10 weeks of overeating, there is an increase in blood volume that alone can account for roughly a pound of weight, there is also an increase in muscle water volume, an increase in “stuff” in your GI tract, and muscle and liver glycogen will go up, as well as an increase in actual muscle mass.
So if you’re going to bulk you do want to do it as “leanly” as possible.
This isn’t meant to be a review of the literature behind overeating and muscle mass, so let’s just sum it up as I do not think traditional “eat as much as as you can to gain muscle” ideas are good ones…
So here’s my view…
To build an extra pound of muscle you will need roughly 100 to 150 grams of protein, plus the roughly 150 calories need to fuel the process of building that muscle.
If you set a goal of an extra two pounds of muscle per week (an unrealistic goal in reality, but a practical goal for planning) then you’ll need to add about 40 grams of protein and 40 extra calories per day.
This may seem exceptionally low, please keep in mind that in clinical research looking at a group of people’s muscle building response to a 16-week weight training program it was found that:
- Non-responders increased muscle cross sectional area by -16 ± 99 um2
- Moderate-responders increased muscle cross sectional area by +1,111 ± 46 um2
- Extreme-responders increased muscle cross sectional area by +2,475 ± 140 um2
THESE ARE BIG DIFFERENCES in muscle mass, yet when analyzing the diets of these three groups it was found that despite the differences in the amount of muscle they built during a 16-week workout routine there was NO difference in the calories or protein consumed between the three groups.
So calorie intake may be permissive in the muscle building process, but they don’t seem to be the driving force, so if we’re going to try to lean bulk we’re going to have to be incredibly strategic. We can’t just eat our way to bigger muscles.
Let’s start with what we know:
- Calories don’t drive the muscle building process, but they are needed.
- Protein does helps drive the anabolic process.
- The anabolic effect of a protein meal lasts about 4 to 5 hours.
- No further stimulus occurs over about 40 grams of protein in any given meal – (there is a limit to the anabolic impact of protein).
Based on this information here is my lean bulking solution…
In a perfect world you would have a protein containing meal at around 7 AM, noon, 5 PM, and 10 PM.
For Lean Bulking I think the answer is adding a 5th feeding at roughly 3 AM.
40 grams of protein, and roughly 25 grams of carbohydrate, or 10 grams of fat, plus whatever residual calories come with the meal / shake. (It’ll probably land somewhere in the 250-350 calorie range).
The only other change I am going to recommend is only fasting once per week.
Everything else must stay exactly the same as it would if you were trying to maintain your weight, and it must be highly monitored.
- Calories for men are 15 – 17 x Height in Centimeters. *Not including the calories in the late night feeding.
- Calories for women are 13.5 – 15.5 x Height in Centimeters. *Not including the calories in the late night feeding.
- Protein will be roughly 120-150 grams per day. *Not including the additional late night feeding.
It is the additional nighttime feeding that will tip the scale from maintenance to a slow weight gain and hopefully result in a slow increase in lean mass.
There is no need to change anything else, in fact making any other alterations to your diet will most likely drive fat gain.
I would keep your training exactly the same (I’d suggest following Progressions), and I would suggest keeping your rest exactly the same.
Everything is exactly the same except now you’ve added an additional protein feeding and an additional 40 grams of protein and 300ish calories to an otherwise maintenance level of protein and calorie intake.
Yes, you will still see some fat gain, and YES getting up at 3 AM or 4 AM to eat will quickly become very annoying, but this may just be the price you have to pay for some extra muscle 😉
Track your waist measurement and your weight very closely. If you waist goes up by more than two inches I’d lower your calories; if your weight increases while you waist stays roughly the same, then your doing ‘bulking’ correctly.
Let your once a week fast take care of some of the excess fat your gaining.
In conclusion for lean bulking, I recommend a structured maintenance level diet of calories, proteins, carbs, and fats, combined with 1 additional late night / early morning feeding.