What Is the Bulking Phase in Bodybuilding?

Bodybuilder at the gym during the bulking phase.

When bulking, a bodybuilder will eat more calories than necessary over an extended period. This helps build muscles over a four- to six-month period by providing the body with nutrient-dense food.

Is bulking the correct option for you? First, let’s look at the subject in greater depth.

What Is Bulking?

There are two primary phases when building muscle:

  • Bulking: Involves increasing your calorie intake by eating more carbohydrates and proteins. During this phase, you’ll stick to a strict weight training schedule so that your body forms new muscle tissue.
  • Cutting: Taking in extra calories also means that your body fat levels will increase. Cutting starts the weight loss journey by creating a calorie deficit. You’ll continue to work out to maintain your improved muscle mass and tone.

How to Start Bulking

Create a Calorie Surplus

Start by working out the number of calories your body needs daily. You will need to consider your:

  • Age
  • Activity level
  • Sex

When you have the base figure, it’s simply a matter of adding extra calories.

How Many Extra Calories?

That depends on a range of factors and will differ for everyone. However, the generally accepted guidelines suggest an increase of between 10% and 20%. If you continue with your bodybuilding program at this level, you should gain between 0.25% and 0.5% of your total body weight weekly.

Monitor your progress closely during the first month. If you don’t see the results you hope for, you may need to increase your caloric intake again.

What You Eat Is Important

Most bodybuilders increase their protein and carbohydrate intake for the best possible results. For those who are just starting, there are no set ratios.

However, the experts agree that it’s best to decrease your fat intake if you’re a more seasoned pro.

Eat More Protein

Your optimal protein intake depends on your current weight. A rough starting point is to eat over 1.1 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Again, this may differ from one person to the next thanks to the metabolism, so monitor your results carefully.

Aim to get between 30% and 35% of your daily calories from protein.

Eat More Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation over the last few years. However, that doesn’t stop them from being a useful part of your weight lifting program.

You should aim to get around 40% to 60% of your daily calories from carbohydrates.

Drop Your Fat Intake

To make cutting easier later, limiting your fat intake during bulking may prove useful. Ensure that no more than 15% to 30% of your calories come from fat. Another way to work it out is to include 1.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight daily.

Are There Health Risks To Bulking?

Some bodybuilders avoid bulking because they feel that it is unhealthy. There may be some truth to this if you aren’t careful about what you eat. Eating food with a low nutrient density or turning to junk food is something to avoid here.

The highly refined nature of these foods makes them easier for the body to digest. This, in turn, leads to fluctuations in your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Over time, these fluctuations prime your body to become less sensitive to insulin.

To avoid these complications, don’t use bulking as an excuse to binge eat. Instead, choose nutrient-dense foods that you can eat during the cutting phase as well. By doing so, you provide your body with the optimum levels of fuel it needs to pack on the muscle.

Another potential risk is that the bad eating habits you pick up during bulking may be difficult to break. For example, you may develop a taste for high-sugar or highly refined foods.

What Should You Eat?

When putting together a bodybuilding meal plan, aim for a whole food-based diet rather than one that centers on highly processed foods. Include healthy, slow-release carbohydrates like:

  • Brown rice and bread
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grains

The following proteins should enable you to build muscle quickly:

  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Fish and seafood
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Dairy
  • Low-fat meat cuts
  • Seeds and nuts

Which Foods Are Off the Menu?

You can eat practically everything, even unhealthy food, in moderation. Having said that, try to avoid the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Sugar-laden sodas and drinks
  • Highly processed meals and junk food
  • Food with added sugar
  • Fried food

Should You Take Supplements When Bulking?

The answer here usually depends on what nutritional support you require. Bodybuilders may also use the following supplements to build muscle and improve performance:

  • Creatine: This useful compound makes it possible to push yourself harder during your workouts.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine helps improve your focus and boosts workout performance.
  • Protein powders: Protein powders make meeting your daily caloric and nutritional intake requirements easier.
  • Weight gain powders: You should read the labels on these products carefully. They usually pack a substantial nutrient punch but often do so by adding extra sugar and carbohydrates.

Supplements can be a useful adjunct to your regular training routine but should never replace good eating habits. Aim to get most of your nutrition from natural food sources instead.

Bulking: The Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Bulking makes it possible to gain more muscle mass in a shorter period.
  • It can help bodybuilders who’ve plateaued to rev up their metabolisms.
  • It provides additional nutrients to keep your body in top form.

Cons

  • It is easy to overeat during this phase.
  • You must keep careful track of your macronutrients and the ratios that you eat them in.
  • Mismanagement of your intake could lead to a disturbance in insulin efficiency.

Is Bulking the Right Move for You?

It may be if you stick to a healthy meal plan and prepare carefully ahead of time. While it may take a little tinkering to work out the perfect formula for you, you’ll find the ideal balance in time.

In the meantime, if you need more advice on bodybuilding or nutrition, take a look at the other articles on our website.

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