Gaining Healthy Weight: The Dos and Don’ts of Bulking Up

Bulking up is one of the most misunderstood phases of bodybuilding, but also one of the most important.

The idea when you’re bulking is fairly simple: eat more, work out more, and put on muscle mass like an absolute beast. But how do we eat more without getting fat? What’s the right ratio of working out to calories burned? It can be a complex topic to navigate. Even experts who have degrees in fitness and nutrition are in constant disagreement about the best way to bulk. Here are a few of the bulking up basics to get you started:

Rule #1: Understand that increasing size is not increasing strength.

The key to bulking up is figuring out to maximize your muscle mass, not weight. As Craig Weller of Precision Nutrition explained to Bicycling.com: “Muscle for the sake of aesthetics is a different thing than muscle for the sake of sports performance…more strength means less relative effort at a given level of power output, so it’s easier to sustain your workload.” You can take a look at some of the world’s most competitive powerlifters to see this in action. A lot of those guys are maybe half the size of the bodybuilders on the Olympia stage. So, when you’re bulking, don’t get discouraged if the size you see in the mirror isn’t necessarily what you’re hoping to see. As long as you diet and exercise correctly, you will be gaining strength, ideally without even putting on too much fat.

Rule #2: Protein, protein, protein…protein! PROTEIN.

Protein is ubiquitous in the fitness world for a reason: it’s the best thing you can be giving your muscles to increase gains. Protein is a godsend. That’s why every IFBB pro has a protein powder endorsement deal. Protein powder is the obvious industry standard, but eating protein-rich meals and snacks can be a valuable asset to any athlete. There are limits to what protein can do for you, but making sure you eat about a gram or 1.2 grams of protein per pound of your weight a day can help you maximize gains. And your calorie intake should increase while you’re bulking, too, so keep eating a lot of healthy meals.

Rule #3: Studies show bulking is easier after dieting.

Bodybuilders cycle through phases of cutting down and bulking up. The science of the human body shows that your body absorbs nutrients best after being on a diet. You will maximize the amount of your food that you actually process and use. And, if this isn’t obvious, bulking up works best when you’re starting from a point of low body fat percentage.

Rule #4: Good fats are your friends. Bad fats are your foe.

Saturated fats, like the kind we find in burgers and other fast foods, are terrible for you. Shocking, right? Healthy fat is a vital part of the bulking process, but do careful research on what you’re eating, because you might be surprised by which fats are actually good and which are bad. Some fatty foods may also be high in sodium, which is something you would want to look out for as a bodybuilder since sodium can be hard on the heart. In general, unsaturated fats (vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fish) = good and trans fats (fast food, frozen pizzas, most baked goods) = bad.

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