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7 Rules to Follow for Bulking as a Beginner

Bulking as a beginner can seem like a confusing and risky process. The thought of gaining excess body fat when building a physique is always a daunting thought.

Bulking is one of the best phases when it comes to building a physique and getting into the weightlifting lifestyle. You can eat what you want whilst still make progress towards building muscle and developing your physique however you need to be careful when following this mentality. 

Bulking is actually a science the revolves around the simple equation of calories consumed vs energy expended, if you eat more than you burn off then you will gain weight, it’s a basic law of thermodynamics. 

The science/art however comes into play when you focus on the weight gain being good quality muscle rather than unnecessary body fat which will do nothing for your physique.

Instead of adopting the ‘eat big to get big’ mentality you should take a more cautious approach, especially as a beginner when the progress will come quickly regardless of what you eat and what program you follow. There are therefore some simple rules you should follow when starting a bulk as a beginner to ensure you see noticeable progress. 

Follow the steps below and you will see noticeable improvements in your physique and progress within 12 weeks guaranteed.

Know Your Starting Point

The first thing you need to find out is your starting point for a bulk, you can’t just start eating and expect it to work much in the same way that you can’t get in a car and just head in any direction hoping to get to your destination. The starting point is going to be your maintenance calorie amount. 

Your maintenance calorie amount is how many calories you need to consume on a daily basis to maintain your current weight. The body needs a minimum number of calories per day just to survive and then an additional amount on top depending on your lifestyle.

A postman for example will burn more calories daily than an office work that sits a desk for half of their day. When calculating your maintenance calories you need to do it based on your current lifestyle. 

If you are a true beginner to the gym and have only just purchased a gym membership then your calorie requirements will change drastically just based on the fact that your energy expenditure is going to increase so you will require more calories. 

Therefore wait until you are in a stable daily routine to get an accurate reading for your maintenance amount, once you have this you can then start on a bulking phase. 

Keep The Surplus Small To Begin With

There’s always a strong temptation to go straight in at the deep end and hit your bulk hard from the outset. This basically entails eating as much as you possibly can to accelerate weight gain. There are however two problems with this approach (though it does work in terms of gaining weight so feel free to follow that strategy).

My recommendation is to keep the surplus as low as possible when starting out in order to avoid the following issues. 

The first issue is you leave less room for progress in the long run. 

I’m a strong believer in marginal gains and milking every step of a process to get the most out of it. What I mean by this is that by jumping straight into advanced techniques or processes without exhausting the basics, will then leave you with minimal tools to employ later on once you hit a plateau. 

The second issue is the amount of body fat you’ll put on by starting with an extreme calorie surplus. You can only build so much muscle naturally in a given period of time. For a beginner it’s realistic to put on 1lb of muscle tissue within roughly a two week period.

Therefore if you are gaining weight at a much faster rate than this then it’s highly likely that the majority will be body fat. It’s expected for you to gain some body fat on a bulk anyway but the real challenge will be keeping this to a minimum. 

Not only does excessive body fat damage your ability to build muscle (this process is much more efficient in the 10% – 13% body fat range) but you will then need to work twice as hard and for longer to then lose this body fat again.

Eat Nutrient Dense Foods

To build muscle you need to eat nutrient dense foods. 100% of your diet doesn’t need to come from these (a chocolate bar won’t kill your progress) however aiming for 80% – 90% of your diet coming from these food sources is good enough. 

What foods are considered nutrient dense? Nutrient dense foods are whole foods (not processed) and have calories made up from a high number of vitamins, minerals, micronutrients and macronutrients. 

The following foods are good examples of nutrient dense foods that you can add to your diet on a bulk:

  • Green, leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach and kale)
  • Meat (beef, pork, lamb)
  • Oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
  • Nuts and lentils (Brazilian, cashew, walnut, beans)
  • Poultry (chicken and turkey)
  • Dairy (milk, cream, cheese)
  • Eggs 
  • Fruits 

You will want to avoid foods that are low in nutrient density (you might have heard of foods like these called empty calories before). This is because you could hit your daily calories eating these foods but if the majority of the macros comes from sugar as an example then this will not help with body composition. 

Your truly empty calories are going to come from sugary drinks, margarine and alcohol. Then your lower density foods will be chocolate, sweets, crisps and other processed foods. 

Hit Your Daily Protein Requirements

One of the key aspects of building muscle is ensuring that your protein intake is high enough to support and promote muscle growth. 

Whilst carbohydrates can make your muscles look bigger and fuller protein is the actual building block of the muscles so it’s a good idea to cover this base, especially as a beginner when you aren’t well adapted to recovering from weight training. 

A good guideline for protein intake is the following:

1g protein per 1lb body weight, a make weighing 200lbs would therefore need to consume 200g of protein per day. 

This is a good guide to use during a bulk because you will be consuming a higher number of calories overall and need more carbs and fats in your diet to fuel heavy lifting. When on a cut this number can be as high as 1.5g protein per 1lb body weight to prevent muscle loss and reduce carbs/fats to promote fat loss. 

This might seem like a high number for some starting out however there are a number of ways that you can easily achieve this. 

The best tool you can use is to take a whey protein supplement. Whilst your diet should focus on nutrient dense foods as mentioned earlier, adding a supplement is a perfectly viable option. 

On average a 25g scoop of whey protein provides roughly 20g (can be more depending on the quality) of protein. A few scoops a day will therefore put a good dent in your requirements and it will do so at little cost and it’s incredibly easy on the digestive system. 

Another option is to get some good quality meat/poultry, either from a local butcher for the highest quality or a local supermarket will suffice. When I say good quality it doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive but rather the least processed. 

Breaded chicken for example will likely be processed unless it states 100% chicken breast or equivalent and will therefore have a much lower nutrient density than a free range organic chicken breast. Therefore aim for better quality protein sources that have higher protein content per 100g. 

Include Shakes

This is my favourite bulking strategy due to not only its effectiveness but for the ease in which it can be implemented. 

Shakes (more specifically high calorie shakes) are easily digestible ways to get in 500 – 1000+ calories in one go. This is a game changer for anyone that struggles to eat their daily calorie requirements when on a bulk. 

I’m sure you’ve seen countless supplement companies promoting weight gain shakes with branding like ‘mass gain extreme’ and though the concept is a good one the actual quality of these supplements do not support this. 

Most weight gainers are loaded with sugar, unless you purchase a specific high quality brand that’s supported by scientific reasoning for the ingredient choices then you are really getting a fat gaining shake. 

A much better option is to make your own using good quality ingredients. You can choose the ingredients you like and also use them to better fit your daily macros. If you’re low on fat for the day simply add some peanut butter to bring this number up. 

Below is a recipe for a high calorie shake that I’ve made for people that struggle with bulking on a low appetite.

25g whey protein (flavour of your choice)
100g Scottish rolled oats 
50g peanut butter 
50g frozen berries
1 tsp cinnamon powder
300ml – 500ml milk (water can also be used but will lower the calorie count)
Blend all ingredients together

Total calorie breakdown – 1,050kcal. Protein 60g. Carbohydrates 103g. Fat 42g 

Keep Training Frequency High

Something you want to take advantage of when bulking is the extra energy (both cardiovascular and muscular) that you will have and you should therefore aim to keep training frequency high. 

On a bulk two things can occur, you start training with heavier weights and more volume and need more days to recover so training frequency drops to support more strength training. The other side of the coin is that with this extra energy you up the weights, volume and frequency of your training which is something I’m definitely guilty of doing in the past. 

Whilst both are beneficial methods for building muscle you also need to make sure that your training frequency for each muscle group is a minimum of twice per week. 

Most muscle groups can recover from weight training within 48 hours, if you only train each muscle once a week then you are leaving untapped gains on the table. Training stimulates protein synthesis and testosterone production which is crucial for building muscle, a bulk will allow you to train more frequently due to the surplus of calories. 

If from the earlier point you train too hard on legs for example and it takes a week to recover from your session before you can train legs again then you will not be optimising muscle growth. 

Look to use a bulk to train more frequently, as a beginner you are unlikely to experience any sort of burnout so make the most of this training period. Once you are lifting serious weight it becomes much difficult to utilise this strategy.

Still Do Some Form Of Cardio

As soon as someone goes on a bulk the first thing to be dropped is cardio. Any form of cardio is usually viewed and advertised as a method for fat loss and therefore deemed unnecessary. There’s also the minor detail that most don’t actually enjoy cardio and find it boring!

The benefits of cardio however extend much further than just fat loss. It’s essential for mental function, cardiovascular health (what ‘cardio’ is) and digestive/metabolism function. The main purpose of this article is however why you should still be doing cardio on a bulk. 

The main reason, as with most points I’ve mentioned earlier, is to minimise the amount of excess body fat that you put on during a bulk. It’s acceptable to put on some body fat during a bulk, it’s almost a given occurrence and nearly goes hand in hand with the muscle building process. 

The should therefore always be to put on the minimum amount of fat possible whilst building the maximum amount of muscle, don’t neglect this step as excess body fat with have negative impacts on building muscle. 

Cardio is therefore a tool you can use to keep weight gain in check and limit the amount of body fat you put on. You don’t need to include energy taxing HIIT sessions however, setting a daily step target of 7,500 steps for example is a good habit to include. 

A few low intensity steady state sessions will also help, a 20 minute incline walk on a treadmill 2-3 times a week prior to a weight training session will again suffice. 

Take Home Message 

For a truly successful bulk you want to build as much muscle as possible whilst minimising fat gain, this should be your key goal. 

To do this successfully apply some (or better still all) of the above points to get started on a bulk as a beginner. Eating everything you can stomach will definitely get you some physique changes, they just won’t be changes that you’ll be happy with!

Keep the surplus low, hit protein requirements and keep energy expenditure at a moderate level and you’ll soon start seeing results as the weeks pass

What Next

If you are looking to make changes to your physique by either losing body fat, building muscle or looking to maintain a lean physique then sign up to my weekly newsletter below. Each week I send out actionable tips to help you lose that extra 1lb of fat or build that extra 0.5lb of muscle mass on a weekly basis. 

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