I subscribed to the bulking theory of doing whatever it took to pack on as much weight as possible for quite awhile. This dangerous bulking mentality allows you to get away with a lot. While pretending to be healthy, you eat as much as you want, follow few, if any nutrition rules and never do any sort of cardio, all in the name of gaining weight. I finally realized this permanent state of ever increasing weight led to deteriorating health, a decrease in cardiovascular performance and an unflattering physical appearance. Today, I’m launching my War on Bulking in an attempt to get people to see it’s unacceptable to sacrifice health in the name of gaining size.
Unfortunately, this mentality is very pervasive in gyms. It’s easy to sell someone on a “healthy lifestyle plan” when it allows unlimited eating, calls for little or no cardio and ignores even the most basic health rules. Being “bulk-healthy” is a lot easier than being “real-healthy.” This six part series covers:
- Part 1 – Introduction to Bulking
- Part 2 – The Typical Bulking Cycle
- Part 3 – The Typical Cutting Cycle
- Part 4 – The Outcome of Bulking/Cutting and Impact on Overall Health
- Part 5 – My Personal Bulking Experience
- Part 6 – The Healthy Way to Gain Muscle Without Getting Fat
Part 1 – Introduction to Bulking
“It’s bulking season!” In the eyes of enthusiastic bulkers, bulking season is the time to eat big, lift big and get big. It’s a temporary period of eating more to support gains in body weight, muscle mass and strength. In reality, bulking is a permanent lifestyle for many. It’s characterized by eating way too much, ignoring simple nutrition guidelines, avoiding high intensity exercise and packing on a lot of body fat, which in the eyes of bulkers, is beneficial and healthy. Here’s Eric Cartman’s experience with bulking and Weight Gain 4000 (skip to 0:19 seconds):
“Bulking” is simply the process of gaining a lot of weight; a calorie surplus (eating more than you burn) combined with strength training equals muscle and weight gain. Gaining weight really only requires more food. When the body gets more calories than it needs, it stores them as fat causing weight gain.
Exercise, and more specifically strength training, causes the body to use a calorie surplus to build muscle. Since muscle growth is limited (unlike body fat gains), more calories (including protein) do not necessarily translate to more muscle. If you eat too many calories, even with more strength training, body fat percentage increases.
Body Fat During Bulking
The problem with bulking is it quickly gets out of hand. A calorie surplus provides extra energy for building muscle. An excessive calorie surplus builds muscle AND body fat. There’s a limit to how much muscle the body naturally builds. More calories, more protein and more strength training only work to increase muscle mass to a certain point.
After you’ve reached a certain point of muscle growth, any extra energy (calories and protein) gets stored as fat. Unfortunately, a lot of bulkers don’t realize this and create excessive and wasteful calorie surpluses leading to unsightly body fat.
Bulkers claim increased body fat is an unwanted but necessary side effect of gaining muscle. This isn’t accurate. Gaining muscle does not directly cause an increase to body fat; too many calories however, do.
How many calories does muscle growth actually require?
If you burn 2,000 calories in a day, consuming 2,000 calories per day would neither increase nor decrease body weight because you would be in a neutral energy balance (consuming the same amount of energy as you burn).
Building muscle requires a calorie surplus. With strength training, a calorie surplus is used to build muscle. Gaining muscle mass is a very slow process. You should expect to gain between five and ten pounds of muscle per year (this number does not include gains in body fat) which is much less than the amount of fat you are capable of gaining in the same amount of time.
How much you eat compared to how much you burn is the only factor holding back fat gains. You can theoretically gain unlimited amounts of body fat if you simply ate A LOT of calories. Muscle gains are not unlimited and happen much slower than fat gains.
Let’s assume it’s possible to gain 10 pounds of muscle in an year. One pound of body weight is generally associated with a surplus of 3,500 calories. Gaining ten pounds in one year requires a total calorie surplus of 35,000 calories per year.
- 35,000 calories divided by 365 days = ~an extra 100 calories per day
The body is capable of adjusting energy needs to counteract small changes in calorie intake in order to stabilize bodyweight. You may need SLIGHTLY more than 100 extra calories per day to gain muscle but we’ll get to this in Part 6 – The Healthy Way to Gain Muscle Without Getting Fat.
Prevailing gym wisdom tells us to create a surplus of 500 calories per day to gain one pound per week or a surplus of 1,000 calories for a two pound per week gain. This is perfect advice if you don’t differentiate between fat and muscle gains. What’s the point of creating a calorie surplus big enough to cause fat gains if you only want muscle?
The Clean Gain Myth
Clean gains describe putting on muscle with no fat. Some bulkers are under the impression they create clean gains by focusing their excessive calorie surplus only on healthy foods. While this is much healthier than having no nutrition rules at all, it doesn’t prevent the body from storing extra energy as fat.
The amount of body fat gained is entirely dependent on the size of a calorie surplus. It’s irrelevant whether a calorie surplus is made up of fast food and candy or cottage cheese and tuna. It’s possible to get fat off healthy foods just as it’s possible to lose weight on junk. Excessive calorie surpluses, regardless of food source, cause body fat gains. Clean gains are only possible with appropriately sized calorie intakes.
There are genetically gifted individuals capable of gaining more muscle than the average person. There are also those who need to gain a lot of weight (football players, sumo wrestlers) for their jobs. It’s also possible to disregard muscle growth limitations with steroids.
My War on Bulking is aimed at the vast majority of people who don’t need to get huge but would otherwise fall into the trap of sacrificing health and physical appearance to gain weight. If you need a lot of size, are genetically gifted or are willing to take steroids to speed up growth, this information isn’t for you, but please feel free to continue reading.
The Bottom Line
The typical bulking mentality sells the idea of gaining weight at any cost. Whether it’s increased body fat, non-existent cardiovascular endurance or unhealthy eating habits, “bulking season” gives you the license to ignore the fundamental rules of health to gain muscle. The end result is moving away from the ultimate goal of looking good and living within a healthy lifestyle.
Part 2 – The Typical Bulking Cycle
In Part 2 of The War on Bulking, I’ll show you the typical bulking cycle and just how much body fat most bulkers gain with a few weeks of bad eating and exercise habits.