The single most important thing to focus on when it comes to a bulking phase is to be in a sufficient enough calorie surplus to facilitate muscle growth whilst not being in such a high surplus that it results in excess fat gain. Once calorie requirements are worked out then you need to consider the marcos on a bulk.
Why macros matter on a bulk? Macros matter on a bulk because this is the period of time that your body needs a certain amount of macronutrients in order to facilitate muscle growth. There is not an exact scientific macro breakdown for this however there are minimum intakes that are based on the individuals requirements.
If you’ve seen terms like “a calorie is a calorie”, “all calories are equal” or “you only need to focus on hitting your daily calorie target” then you would be following a very generalised process aimed at helping the average person to control weight.
If however you have a specific goal which is in this case is bulking (presumably with the aim of maximal muscle growth) then your macro breakdown will be crucial when it comes to optimally building muscle mass.
What Are Macros?
Macronutrients or ‘macros’ for short are the large nutrient groups that your body needs in order to survive and comprises of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Each macro group has a different function within the human body and to make sure this doesn’t turn into a biology and chemistry lesson I’ll be focusing on what makes these essential for muscle growth when bulking.
The following is not a list in order of importance, all three of the major macro groups are important when it comes to building muscle on a bulk and should therefore be considered with equal attention.
Protein is arguably the most documented and recommended macronutrient when it comes to weight training and building muscle and this is because protein is the chemical building block of your muscles.
The key role of protein when it comes to a bulk is to facilitate muscle repair which occurs after weight training has caused microscopic tears to the muscle fibres. This Is the basic process of weight training, damage to muscle in order for it to recover and grow larger and stronger than before.
Protein plays a big role in this process which is why it’s important to get sufficient quantities within in your diet to improve overall body composition.
Carbohydrates will be your primary fuel source of energy when on a bulk and for this reason you’ll be looking to consume the majority of your intake in the immediate period around your workout.
Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into glucose and glucose is the primary energy source for muscular contractions. It’s therefore important to not only have sufficient stores in the muscle going into a workout but also making sure that you fully replenish stores post workout too.
The reason carbs are tricky to manage on a bulk is because foods that you wouldn’t expect to be high in carbs end up being much higher than you’d think and therefore push your daily calorie surplus intake too high if not closely monitored.
Fats are essential for hormonal regulation and also for use as a secondary energy source (this could be a primary energy source if you follow a low carb dieting approach) yet are often an afterthought when on a bulk.
One reason for this is because the term fat is often associated with body fat and there should be a clear distinction made between the two. Eating too much fat than you can burn off will lead to gaining unwanted body fat as a result however the same thing will happen if you eat too many carbs as well.
The only thing to be aware of when it comes to over consuming with fats is that not all calories are created equally when it comes to macro breakdowns. 1g of fat is the equivalent of 9 calories whereas 1g of protein and carbohydrates is only 4 calories.
From this you could see why it would be easy to see your daily calorie intake end up being too high if you don’t track it carefully.
How to Calculate Your Macros on a Bulk
As I mentioned earlier there is not an exact macronutrient split that will give the best results possible for all people and this is because everyone is different/unique and therefore will respond to training and dieting differently.
There are however some basic guidelines that you can base your decisions on and from there the key thing will be tracking your progress to see how you respond and then making adjustments based on this.
To calculate your macros you first need to work out what your daily calorie intake will be when on a bulk. There are different approaches to a bulk however my recommendation when starting out would always be to keep the calorie surplus low initially to make sure you don’t put on unwanted body fat from the start.
To work out your daily calorie intake you first want to calculate your maintenance calorie requirement, this is how many calories you need to consume each day in order to maintain your current body weight. You can find calculators for this online however for a quick estimate you can use the following guideline below:
Take your body weight in pounds and times is by the activity level multiplier based on what best represents your current activity level. Calculation: body weight (lbs) x multiplier
To use myself as an example: 178lbs x 155 (moderately active) = 2,670kcal
My daily requirements just to maintain weight are therefore 2,670kcal. To bulk you will then add a surplus amount on to this, I’d always go with the lower end of the spectrum so with a conservative 300 – 500 calorie surplus I’d choose 300kcal as my starting point. This would give me a daily calorie target of 2,970kcals per day.
Once you have this number you can then look at how it will translate to your macronutrient breakdown. One way you can do this is to work it out based on a percentage like 40% protein, 40% carbs and 20% fats which will keep it very simple but I prefer to work with figures based off of body weight.
- Protein – For protein intake you want to look at 1-1.5g per pound body weight. If you are starting a bulk and weigh 180lbs you would therefore consume either 180g as a minimum or 270g at the maximum limit
- Fats – Calculate as 0.45g per pound body weight, this is a good figure to keep consistent with throughout a bulk as upping your fats will significantly up your daily calories. To use the example of a 180lbs person you would therefore be consuming (180lbs x 0.45) 81g fat each day.
- Carbohydrates – The remainder of your calories should therefore be made up of carbs. To calculate this add together the calorie equivalent of protein and fat and subtract it from your daily requirements. 2,970kcal – (720 calories from protein + 729 calories from fat) = 1,521. Divide this number by 4 to get your daily carb requirements in grams (1,521 / 4 = 380g)
How to Track Macros on a Bulk
Now that you know what macro breakdown you can consume from the start the next step, and most important one is to track your progress based on these figures. The reason tracking your macros and overall calories is so important is because the above is based on a general guideline and therefore will not provide optimal results for everyone.
It might be the case that you start out on the lower end of the protein intake but do not recover sufficiently after each training session and therefore need a higher protein intake, you might also be consuming too many carbs and not utilising them leading to a gain in unwanted body fat.
It’s a learning process to see what your body adjusts and adapts to and then making changes to your diet based on this. One key factor that makes it so important on a bulk is because it’s so easy to consume too many calories (even by accident) and end up gaining more fat than you do lean muscle tissue.
One particular example of this is for high calorie ‘healthier’ option, there was an informational piece covered online that shows perceived healthier option protein bars are actually higher in calories and fats than regular chocolate versions such as a Mars bar!
Ignore any general health issues or questions surrounding this and instead focus on the purpose of your bulk, if you pick the protein bar for added protein and don’t track the calories or macros then you’d surely assume this is a good option. If however you made this option every day, consumed 700 more calories per week than you had planned and gained 1lb of body fat as a result (I’m exaggerating this scenario as an example) then this would lead to a less than optimal bulking period.
To combat this you need to track your macros daily in order to stay accountable. You could use a tried and tested method of writing this down in a food diary and tracking it daily but my recommendation would be to utilise the technology we have at our disposal these days and use an app like Myfitnesspal.
It’s a free app that I personally use and takes all of the effort out of tracking calories, there is a bar code scanner so that you can scan a food choice quickly and it will automatically save it to your food library with a complete breakdown included. You can also save meals if you follow a set meal plan each day with minimal variation.
The benefit of this is that you can get a running tally of your calorie intake as you go whilst also getting the macro breakdown with it. The below is one example that shows my macro breakdown from one day this year just to show how easy calorie counting and macro tracking can be, especially these days.
Total calorie intake matters when it comes to controlling body weight regardless of what your goal is but macro tracking matters on a bulk so that you can get optimal results which would be muscle and strength gains with minimal fat gain.
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