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What Is a Lean Bulk

What Is a Lean Bulk & Why Should You Do a Lean Bulk

Most of you are probably already familiar with bulking, which essentially involves consuming more calories than you use each day, also referred to as a calorie surplus, in order to get bigger. 

Bulking isn’t only about diet though, it also involves intense training and workouts to promote muscle gain. 

Probably the main problem people face when bulking though is how to gain muscle but maintain a lean body fat percentage, basically how to build muscle instead of fat. Lean bulking is the main technique for doing this. 

But just what is a lean bulk? A lean bulk involves consuming a small calorie surplus of 100kcal – 200kcal above your daily maintenance calorie requirements. This is to ensure a gradual increase in weight and muscle mass without simultaneously gaining excess body fat which is typical when bulking.

So, if you’re looking to find out more about lean bulking check out the rest of this article.

What is a Lean Bulk?

Lean bulking is a bulking technique that involves a controlled amount of calorie consumption combined with workouts and training. By consuming a set calorie target, the idea is to gain muscle without gaining fat, so that you can stay lean whilst getting bigger.

So to expand on this a little bit more, with a lean bulk the amount of calories you eat each day is monitored. Usually, you’d want to be consuming about 15% more than you use. So if you use 2000 calories each day, you’d want to consume an extra 300 calories. This is because on average you only need about 15% more than your required maintenance calories to build muscle.

In fact on average, a person can build 0.5lbs of lean muscle mass every two weeks naturally as a beginner. 

As you progress, this rate does slow down and it’s harder to gain more muscle. As a result, consuming a lot more calories is more likely to cause fat gain, not muscle gain. Obviously gaining fat isn’t the goal of bulking.

When lean bulking the focus is also on consuming foods that are going to promote muscle gain, instead of fat gain. This involves consuming higher amounts of protein, such as meat, meat alternatives, and vegetables, as protein has been shown to promote muscle growth. In doing so, you maximize the likelihood of increasing muscle mass.

As I mentioned though bulking isn’t just about your diet, although this is a crucial part. 

As with other forms of bulking though you’d still do workouts and intensive training, as this is going to cause muscle growth, helping you to stay lean and maintain a low body fat percentage. 

What Is the Difference Between a Bulk and a Lean Bulk?

The main difference between a bulk and a lean bulk is that a lean bulk involves a controlled and monitored amount of calorie consumption, unlike other bulking approaches where the amount of calories you consume isn’t monitored as the goal is just to consume as much as possible.

As well as having a controlled amount of calorie consumption the foods you eat when dirty bulking and lean bulking are very different. This is because the goal with dirty bulking is just to consume as many calories as possible, so higher-calorie foods like pizzas and burgers are recommended. 

However, these foods promote fat gain. When lean bulking the idea is to minimize fat gain and promote muscle gain, so the foods you eat should reflect this. That’s why high protein foods are so important when lean bulking.

Check this out in more detail with this comparison article lean bulk vs bulk and cut

Is a Lean Bulk Possible?

A lean bulk is definitely possible and it’s actually one of the best ways to bulk. This is because you focus on staying lean through controlled calorie consumption and eating foods that promote muscle growth. As a result, you can stay lean while gaining muscle.

Whether a lean bulk is actually possible is a pretty common question, as in some ways it sounds too good to be true that you could gain muscle without gaining fat when bulking. 

However, this is what a lean bulk involves. By not overdoing it with excess calorie consumption like you would on a dirty bulk and focusing on eating muscle-promoting foods it is possible to gain muscle, not fat.

If you still need some convincing that a lean bulk is possible, check out this video on lean bulking:

Why Should You Do a Lean Bulk?

The main pros are that it’s more sustainable than dirty bulking in the long term and you’re less likely to gain fat doing a lean bulk, which means you won’t need to cut afterward. You’re also less likely to experience bad health effects linked to dirty bulking.

So there are loads of advantages to lean bulking. To just explain this a little more, lean bulking is a more sustainable way of gaining muscle long-term. 

The huge amount of calorie consumption required for dirty bulking means that you can’t do it for more than a few weeks or months. In comparison, lean bulking can be done over a longer time frame to slowly build up muscle.

This is often one of the key bulking issues when people find they are gaining too much fat on a bulk

Also, when lean bulking you’re much less likely to gain fat because you’re not massively exceeding your daily calorie use or eating really high-fat foods. 

As you aren’t packing on lots of fat during a lean bulk, you won’t need to cut afterward to get lean because you’ll be staying lean the whole time.

Lean bulking is also good because it’s less likely to cause negative health effects than dirty bulking. This is because the focus when lean bulking is on eating a healthy diet that’s high in protein and muscle growth-promoting foods. 

In comparison, dirty bulking can cause negative health effects because it involves eating high-calorie foods that are often also high in fat and sugar content. 

Will I Gain Fat if I Lean Bulk?

You’re less likely to gain fat when lean bulking in comparison to other bulking methods. This is because the amount of calories you consume is more controlled, so you’re not massively exceeding your daily use, and the foods you eat are designed to promote muscle, not fat gain.

Obviously, exceeding the number of calories that you actually use each day is going to lead to changes in body composition. However, if you follow a lean bulk and stick to calorie targets, eat the right foods, and train then the likelihood of gaining body fat is a lot lower than it is on a dirty bulk.

How Many Calories Should I Have to Lean Bulk?

Most people will only need an excess calorie consumption of 15% of what they use each day. For most people, this will mean that you’ll need a surplus of 250-500 calories each day in order to build muscle. Consuming more calories than this is likely to cause fat, not muscle, gain.

So when doing a lean bulk you don’t need to consume a huge amount of calories above what you’re already consuming. 

This is because to gain muscle you don’t need a huge excess of calories. Realistically you actually only need between 200 and 500 calories extra. Above this it won’t be muscle that you’re gaining, it will be fat.

How Long Does a Lean Bulk Take?

Lean bulks are usually done over a period of 12-16 weeks, as this is the time it takes to really see results from building muscle. You would then have a break period and then decide whether to do another lean bulk depending on what you’ve gained.

Related – How long should you bulk for

Overall though this is a difficult question to answer as it depends on where you’re starting in terms of body composition and what your end goal is. When starting a lean bulk, you should really be starting with a body composition of 10%-12% body fat

As I mentioned, for most people they can realistically gain 0.5lbs of lean muscle mass every 2 weeks as a beginner. So if your goal is to gain a lot more muscle this is obviously going to be a slower process that’s done over weeks to months.

Although lean bulking can be a slower, more gradual process, it is worth it in the long run as it can deliver impressive results for muscle gains and for maintaining a lean body percentage!


For anyone setting out with the goal to maximize muscle growth while minimizing fat gain, a bulking phase is going to be a crucial aspect of this. The issue is that the number of calories you consume and the amount of muscle mass you gain as a result are not directly related. 

Due to the way the human body stores and utilizes a surplus of calories, which is anything above the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight (factoring in exercise) a portion of calories will tend to be stored as body fat. 

This issue is compounded when people consume higher calories than what they need to support lean muscle growth. This is where a lean bulk is not only favorable but rather where it should be your first-choice method for bulking.

 For more details, you should check out this complete guide on bulking for beginners. Here, I give macro recommendations and show you how to work out your calorie requirements to minimize the chance of gaining too much body fat while bulking.

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