How to Lean Bulk – The Ultimate Guide

Bulking without putting on too much body fat

One of the most common terms that you will hear in the gym is “bulking“. It is such a broad term, and it is typically broken down into two different types which are lean bulking and dirty bulking. Lean bulking is such a misunderstood concept that most people who start a lean bulk end up gaining excess body fat. For a few minutes, forget everything you’ve been told about bulking, and let us dissect what exactly a lean bulk is, and explain how to do it.

Bulking Overview

A bulking cycle is a period of time where you eat a surplus of calories to gain both muscle mass as well as strength. The sad and inevitable part of a typical bulking program is that an aggressive caloric surplus state will invariably lead you to put on body fat, sometimes more than you would like, but there are ways to avoid that.

In an effective bulking plan, you should be increasing your training intensity and frequency. Adding more load and volume will provide ample stimulation to your muscles and will make sure you’re not adding too much to your fat reserves, this is typically known as the “lean bulk”.

Like all good things, a bulking period eventually has to come to an end, and typically there will be a cutting phase to follow. In the “cutting” phase you will cut the fluff from your body by adding HIIT cardio to your training program and by cutting the carbs and fats from your diet, and this will reveal the muscle mass that you have added during your bulking phase.

Pre-Requisites of a Lean Bulk

lean bulking

Don’t Eat Like It’s The Last Meal of Your Life

Some people think that a bulking diet just means you will be packed with cheat meals. You can’t, nor should you eat anything and everything you can get your hands on. Just like any other bodybuilding program, you’ll have to follow a strict diet plan for a lean and clean bulk. Eating larger amounts of clean food helps with adding quality size and can help to keep everything in check, such as energy and hormone levels.

A Bulk is Not For Everyone

Probably the biggest misconception about bulk is that anyone can do it. If you’re a newbie or don’t have any gains to show, forget lean bulking. The first goal should be to put on quality muscle mass. You should only consider bulking if your current body fat percentage is at or around 10-12%. If you’re around 15-20% body fat, you probably are already a little too bulky to start a new lean bulking program.

Calculating Your Caloric & Macronutrient Needs For Lean Bulking

calorie counting for a lean bulk

Starting a lean bulking program without knowing the exact amount of calories and macronutrients you need is a recipe for disaster. As someone rightly said, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”

If you don’t follow a strict diet, you’ll most likely end up stuffing yourself with empty calories and saturated fats. Ask anyone on a bulking schedule about his exact daily calorie goals and they might tell you that the whole point of a bulking program is to put on size without fussing too much about tracking calories.

Designing Your Diet

The first step in designing the bulking diet is to calculate your BMR. BMR (basal metabolic rate) is the amount of energy required by your body while resting in a temperate environment when the digestive system is inactive. Calculating your BMR is equivalent to figuring out how much gas your idle car consumes while parked.

lean bulk

After calculating BMR, it’s time to compute your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure) with this formula:

tdee formula

TDEE is the exact number of calories your body needs to maintain itself. In a bulking program, you need to add a surplus to put on some muscle mass. Most people make the mistake of adding too many calories to their diet. In a bulking program, you don’t need more than 200-300 calories to be in a healthy and effective surplus state.

Finding Your Daily Macronutrient Needs

While this might feel a little complicated but learning these steps will put you in total control of your body, and you won’t need a dietician ever again to help with your transformations.

Each macronutrient has a certain amount of calories per gram. While fats contain nine calories per gram, protein and carbs contain four calories per gram each. We won’t get into the roles of each macronutrient as it is out of the scope of the article but each macronutrient is indispensable to the success of your lean bulk.

Starting with Protein

Protein is the muscle’s building block and arguably the most important macronutrient when it comes to muscle building. According to some studies, you need 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight to put on muscle mass, and others will say 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight.

After you calculate your daily required calories using TDEE, you need to gauge your daily protein need. 40:30:30 (carbs: protein: fats) is a dependable macronutrient split for bulking. If your total required calories are 2400kcal, you’ll need 960kcal (2400X40%) coming from protein. You need to be eating 240 grams (960/4) of protein every day to put on muscle mass. A quality meal replacement shake can be a great substitute for those on the go.

Carbs & Fats Come Second

Calculate your required fats the same way. You’ll need 720 calories (2400X30%) and 80 grams (720/9) of fats. Carbs are calculated by adding the required calories from protein and fats and deducting them from the total amount of required calories.

In this case, you’ll need 720kcal [2400-(960+720)] and 180 grams (720/4) of carbohydrates. The next step would be to use an app like MyFitnessPal to design your meal plan as per your macro goals.

Now that you know this system, you never have to consult a nutritionist for designing a diet plan, your welcome.

The Main Kinds of Bulks

As stated above, there are pretty much two main types of bulking, which are dirty and lean. Let’s break down each one.

The Dirty Bulk

The dirty bulk is probably the most common type of bulk, and one that many newcomers looking to put on quick size will utilize. A dirty bulk doesn’t require any calorie or macronutrient tracking, and a lot of times it does not require food restrictions. You eat the usual food (in higher quantities) and gain a decent amount of muscle mass. People also run the risk of gaining a higher amount of fat in the process.

The Lean Bulk

The lean bulk is what people want to do, but then they end up doing the dirty bulk because of a lack of knowledge. It is the structured approach to bulking where you track your calories and macronutrients. In the lean bulk, you gain maximum muscle and and keep body fat gain to a minimum.

Are Appetite Stimulants Effective for a Bulk?

One of the hardest parts of bulking is managing to get all of that food in your system, especially when you are focusing on staying lean while putting on quality size and not too much fat, you can only eat so much chicken and rice all day. That being said, a proper appetite stimulant can be the way to go. What is a good appetite stimulant?

MuscleMeds Feast Mode

Increase your appetite and digestion with FEAST MODE from MuscleMeds!

“FEAST LIKE A BEAST” is the slogan for MuscleMeds FEAST MODE, and they could not have said it better. FEAST MODE will have you eating like an animal. It is quite possible that the most critical component of any mass-building or weight gaining program is to ensure that you are consuming large quantities of calories. Making sure to get in the proper amount of protein, fats, and carbohydrates can be tiring, and you may fill up quicker than you would like to, but without proper caloric intake you are selling yourself short, which is why FEAST MODE can be so beneficial. 

Feast Mode does the following: 

  • Increases ghrelin, also known as the appetite-stimulating hormone
  • Enhances digestion and nutrient absorption to make sure those calories are going to the right places
  • Optimizes anabolic and ergogenic effects of food that you consume
  • Increases total food consumption and calories to really help your bulking phase out

Check out our individual review for FEAST MODE here!

Tracking Your Progress

Tracking progress is one of the most overlooked aspects of lean bulking. You need to know the realistic rate of muscle growth to be able to track and compare your progress. Your bulk progress will depend on your training experience. Take a look at an app like Boostcamp to track progress.

Training experience can be categorized in a few different ways, with the most popular one developed by Lyle McDonald. His method is based on years of proper training:

rate of growth

Other Supplements to Help Lean Bulk

When it comes to diet and hitting your macros, this is not always the easiest task. That is why there are different supplements designed to help you hit your macros and put on quality size and not an overabundance of fat. These supplements include:

We also have a few recommendations for each category, to help you maximize your lean bulk!

Transparent Labs Whey Isolate

Code GENIRON10 For 10% Off

Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate is organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free, boasting a great formula for a top protein powder. With nothing artificial added, this is a clean protein that is easier on your stomach.

A good protein powder can help hit your macros no problem, and Transparent Labs provides a good one. Their 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate is the perfect protein-by-weight ratio at 88%. With 28 grams of protein per 32-gram scoop, hitting your daily protein marks has never been easier, and your lean bulk will be going that much smoother. The all-natural ingredients ensure no artificial sweeteners, coloring, or preservatives ruin this great product. With protein being an essential part of the muscle building or weight loss process, no one needs the added junk to spoil their hard work and put on excess weight, especially during a lean bulk.


ENHANCED GAINER SUPPLEMENT. Mutant’s most popular weight gainer supplement that is packed with BCAAs/EAAs and waxy maize to help with growth and bulking.

Mass gainers are good for lean bulks as they are an easy way to get extra calories and macros in, but you have to be careful because they can also put a little bit of fat on you. Many mass gainers are filled with junk ingredients. This is not the case with MUTANT MASS, as it is designed specifically for the strongest bodybuilders and weightlifters that walk the earth. MUTANT MASS has been helping to build muscle worldwide, as it is in more than 80 countries! This clean mass gainer is now being discovered by athletes seeking the most powerful gainer commercially available, and helps you put on quality size which is ideal for a lean bulk.


When you lack time, forget to prep meals - or s#*t just happens - be ready with fast, flexible and complete real food macros on-demand. Designed from real bodybuilding meals for real gains!

Meal replacements are great for when you are looking to get extra meals in without the hassle of preparing a full meal. They also are good for when you are low on time, or just looking for a change. However, many meal replacements have ingredients that are not ideal. MUTANT FLEX FOOD is designed after real bodybuilding meals to deliver quality macros and gains, making your lean bulk ten times better.

Lean Bulking Wrap Up

Overall, bulking is a great way to really put on size and strength. When it comes time to do it, however, many will end up with too much body fat. This is why lean bulking is a great option if you are looking to progress, but not get too fat in the process.

Have you ever tried lean bulking? Let us know in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook and Twitter.

Dylan Wolf
I work mainly in content writing, focusing my free time on bodybuilding and strength sports. I was introduced to fitness in high school and after watching Generation Iron movies. I love to train. I have competed multiple times, even winning a junior title in classic physique. I have a bachelor's in criminal justice and business obtained through Alvernia University. When I am not focused on work or training, I enjoy watching films or reading about anything and everything.