Many people who enter a dieting phase will struggle with the cutting phase of physique development. Consuming a caloric deficit, restricting some of your favorite foods, and having to increase energy expenditure through more cardio are often the biggest difficulties.
For some however, it’s not the cutting phase that they find difficult but rather the reverse process that comes with building muscle, this process is better known as a bulk.
Bulking is hard? Many people (hardgainers in particular) find bulking hard. The bulking phase requires you to consume a calorie surplus and eat a relatively high quantity of food, even when you have a low appetite or feel full. Therefore, strategies are needed to increase appetite and/or boost digestion.
Is Bulking Easy?
Many might think that bulking is easy, you can eat what you want whenever you want, you don’t need to do as much, if any cardio and you get stronger in the gym in the process. These seem like very good points to make however this is a flawed view of a bulk.
A bulking phase should be just as dedicated and detailed as a cutting phase if you want optimal results for your physique. Sure you can follow the approach just mentioned of eating what you want and not having to do cardio but this is a fast track to gaining fat, not muscle.
Therefore if you are of the opinion that bulking is easy then you are either doing it wrong or simply not too bothered that you now wear 44 inch waist jeans instead of your old 32 inch pair back when you were lean or you are just not doing it right.
For most people a bulking phase is certainly not easy however on the flip side it also doesn’t need to be hard, going to the extremes in something will always cause some issues along the way.
Is Bulking Harder Than Cutting
This is part opinion, part anecdotal evidence, but the majority of people find bulking harder than cutting. I touched on this earlier but it’s often assumed that a cutting phase is difficult as you have low energy, mood swings, and can’t perform in the gym. What you neglect to notice, however, is that on a cut you see noticeable progress on a weekly basis in terms of body composition.
With a bulking phase the visual progress you see is not only less noticeable but it takes much longer to see results as well. It’s sustainable and optimal to lose 1lbs – 2lbs of body fat per week when cutting but when gaining muscle mass, a peak expectation is 0.25lbs – 0.5lbs of muscle mass and that is for a beginner (it’s much less for experienced lifters).
Therefore, from a body composition perspective in order to make noticeable changes to your physique, bulking is a longer and harder process than cutting. This is also reflected by the fact that a cutting phase can be 12 – 24 weeks whereas a typical bulking phase is anywhere from 36 – 64 weeks so potentially 5 times longer.
With bulking, there are also true hardgainers that struggle to build muscle mass and size due to a poor muscle fiber makeup, bad genetics, a fast metabolism, and a low appetite. Chances are that you’ve never heard of a hard loser before though?
There are some exceptions but burning body fat is a much more repeatable process for most people, whereas bulking and building muscle is certainly easier for some than it is for others. I’m not trying to rank the two phases as people often have different issues when it comes to diet, training, and body composition so I’m just highlighting that a lot of factors indicate that bulking is harder than cutting.
Bulking Is Hard
For a lot of people, especially hardgainers/ectomorphs, bulking can be hard for a number of reasons which include:
- Low to no appetite
- Can’t gain weight
- Gaining more fat than muscle
- Not knowing how many calories they need to consume
- Constantly feeling bloated and full
- Spending too much time cooking and eating
The above are just a few of the reasons that make bulking so hard, with this in mind I’ve put together 4 actionable steps that once you implement will make your bulking process so much easier. Bulking doesn’t need to be hard if you know how to approach it!
The guys over at Bony to Beastly have even committed a full site to just to demonstrate how hard it can be for skinny guys to bulk up
1. Know Your Maintenance Calorie Requirements
This is the number one cause of why many find it hard to bulk, not knowing how many calories you need to consume to be in a surplus is the most basic (and easily rectifiable) mistake that you can make.
Just to get back to basics, a bulk is a dieting phase that involves consuming a caloric surplus over days, weeks and months in order to facilitate muscle growth. To work out what you surplus requirements are you would first need to know what your maintenance calorie requirements are.
Your maintenance calorie requirements are how many calories you need to consume in order to maintain weight. Sounds straightforward enough but unless you have a coach/personal trainer or an in depth knowledge regarding health and fitness then you would never know this phrase even exists.
Working your maintenance requirements out will be different for each person depending on their individual characteristics. For a quick guide on this I’ve put together an in depth article that covers working your maintenance requirements out here:
Once you know what your maintenance calories are then you can simply add a surplus on top of this, a good guide to start with would be a 300kcal surplus and then you monitor how your body responds.
As you gain weight through the surplus you will adjust your maintenance calorie requirements and surplus amount over time, the incorrect way to go about it is to start bulking with no set calorie target in mind.
2. Consume Liquid Calories
This is a strategy that goes under the radar a bit but something that most people will struggle with at some point in their bulking phase is feeling full and having no appetite.
Consuming a calorie surplus for weeks and months on end will eventually lead to a difficulty when trying to consume that much food.
There will be a range of factors that influence this like the foods you are consuming, when you consume them and quickly you can digest and absorb the nutrients.
There are certain strategies that focus on ways to speed up digestion through supplementation and other strategies however I prefer to go for an under the radar approach and focusing on consuming liquid calories throughout the day.
Before I get into this any further I need to point out the wholefood meals consisting of nutrient dense foods should be your priority throughout the day, the shakes are to supplement these high volume meals and not to be used as a replacement.
Liquid calories, particularly in the form of high calorie shakes are excellent ways to increase your overall calorie intake whilst also being easily absorbed by the body (involves less breaking down in the stomach) and therefore means you can consume them even when appetite is not so high.
It’s very easy to knock up a high calorie shake in excess of 1,000kcals with some whey protein, oats, nut butter, honey and a range of other high calorie but also nutrient dense foods. There’s no need to resort to mass gaining shakes as these take more size from your wallet than they will adding size to your frame!
3. Focus on Getting Stronger in the Gym, Not on Scale Weight
Another thing that many struggle with when bulking is trying to constantly make the scale weight go up, this is often a flawed mentality because the rate of muscle growth is actually a lot less than what you might think or have been led to believe.
As a beginner you can on average hope to gain up to 25lbs of lean muscle tissue in your first year of training. A rage of factors will come in to play here and influence exactly how much you can hope to gain but the key take away should be that out of 365 days of the year, your weight will only change for around 25 of those days in terms of muscle.
Therefore if you are stepping on the scale everyday expecting to see the needle move and then being disappointed so upping the calories then you are basically in a race to gain body fat.
Building muscle is a slow and inconsistent process and if you focus on chasing scale weight then you are not focusing on building muscle. Your first focus should be on consuming a calorie surplus however once this is ticked you should be focusing on increasing strength in the gym.
Lifting weights combined with a caloric surplus is where you will see progress in your overall muscle mass, instead of chasing scale weight you should instead be chasing a different kind of weight and that is the weights found in your log book.
Getting stronger over time has a direct correlation with muscle mass, I’m not saying that strength alone causes more muscle mass but rather the point that there is a correlation.
Focusing on progressive overload in your training and consuming a calorie surplus each day is what will lead to increasing your scale weight over time. This isn’t a process that you will allow you to see changes daily and this is where many will find it difficult to come to terms with.
Chasing quick progress and a silver bullet or magic pill (or whatever miracle cure you believe in) is a sure way to set yourself up for failure and sub par progress.
4. Meal Prep and Cook in Bulk Sessions
Finally as with most things in life the key to success is being prepared. I’m not much of a cook however I seem to find I spend a ridiculous amount of my time preparing, cooking and cleaning up after food in an effort to support my workouts.
I have all the knowledge to batch make food and have diet hacks like my high calorie shakes mentioned earlier and yet I still seem to find I spend a lot of time cooking and prepping meals so I can only imagine how difficult this is for first time bulkers (I can’t even remember my first bulk).
Therefore something to really take the hassle out of bulking is meal prep and more importantly cooking in bulk and batching meals. If you are going to cook chicken breast for one day why not buy some Tupperware, cook 3 days worth and store it all in the fridge?
Something like this seems simple to say but it genuinely can make your life so much easier on a bulk. If you are going to make one meal then the amount of effort needed to scale this up is minimal and you can batch cook meals that will then last you for 3-4 days.
All you need is some bigger pots/pans and a few hours every few days to then save hours over the coming days and make life and decision making energy so much easier.
Some methods that I personally like are slow cooker meals, sticking everything in the pot in the morning and leaving it to cook whilst you go about your day and the best thing is slow cooker meals are primed for building muscle.
They mostly require meat, vegetables and a carb source like potatoes, this combination is basically a muscle building meal.
Other methods are batch cooking stews, sauces and bases that you can have with pasta or rice and then freezing them. With freezing you can make a week’s worth of meals each Sunday and have a stress free week just defrosting and reheating your meals.
Finally you want to look for small hacks that you can use to up your calories but reduce prep time, microwavable rice and veg, liquid eggs, blended oats instead of cooked oatmeal or overnight oats, double cream in your coffee.
All of these are methods that can be used to up your calorie intake whilst taking up minimal cooking or prep time. We are no in the 21st century when convenience is a priority for most so why not make the most of the options whilst still making sensible food choices.
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