War on Bulking: Part 2 – The Typical Bulking CycleKen Bendor
In Part 1 of The War on Bulking, I discussed the mentality of the typical bulker. This “do anything to gain weight” attitude negatively impacts health. Though many bulkers claim to be healthy, their actions suggest they are much more concerned with gaining unlimited amounts of body weight than creating a healthy lifestyle. Excessive gains in body weight do not lead to faster muscle growth, but instead, a spike in body fat. Unrestrained bulking causes a decrease in muscle tone, increase in unsightly body fat and diminished overall health. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll discuss the negative effects of excessive bulking on body weight and body fat percentage.
- 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
The Typical Bulking Cycle
Because bulkers create excessive calorie surpluses, consuming anywhere from 4,000-5,000 calories per day, they end up gaining 2-3 pounds per week. Remember, the amount of fat you gain is limited only by the size of a calorie surplus (the difference between how much you consume and burn).
Gaining muscle however, is limited to about 10 pounds per year. If you gain 10 pounds of muscle in an year with an additional 20 pounds of fat, the 20 pounds of fat is by definition, extra energy stored from an excessive calorie consumption. Let’s take a look at the following example.
Serious Bulker (SB)
“Serious Bulker” (we’ll call him SB) weighs 150 pounds with a body fat percentage of 6%. He’s sick of only weighing 150 pounds and wants to put on some size. He sets an ambitious goal of gaining about three pounds per week with an ultimate target weight of 198 pounds. At three pounds per week, this goal should take about 16 weeks or four months to complete.
SB wants to gain three pounds of muscle per week for a total of 48 pounds in four months. Gaining three pounds per week requires a calorie surplus of 1,500 calories per day. Though it’s possible to gain an almost unlimited amount of body fat, gaining 48 pounds of muscle in four months is not possible, regardless of calorie intake.
Serious Bulker’s Outcome
For this example we’ll assume it’s possible to gain 15 pounds of muscle per year, which is very generous as most struggle to put on even 10 pounds in the same time frame. At 15 pounds of muscle per year, SB should expect to put on five pounds of muscle in four months or 0.3125 pounds of muscle per week.
A surplus of 1,500 calories per day supports a total weight gain of three pounds per week. Since SB is gaining 0.3125 pounds of muscle per week, the remainder of those three pounds come in the form of body fat (about 2.69 pounds per week).
At the beginning of SB’s bulking journey, he weighed 150 pounds, with a body fat percentage of 6%; his body had a total of nine pounds of fat. He was lean and most likely ripped with a six pack.
He now weighs 198 lbs. He gained a total of five pounds of muscle (0.3125lbs of muscle per week multiplied by 16 weeks = 5lbs of muscle) and 43 pounds of fat (2.69lbs of fat per week multiplied by 16 weeks = 43.04lbs of fat).
At 198 pounds, his body now comes with 52 pounds of body fat translating to a body fat percentage of 26%. He is no longer lean and his six pack has faded away.
Here is a graph of what happened to SB. Along with an increase in body weight, SB saw his body fat percentage reach new heights. The blue line represents body weight in pounds and corresponds to the numbers on the left side of the graph. The red line represents body fat percentage and corresponds to the numbers on the right side of the graph.
Here’s another representation of what happened in four months. Out of a total gain of 48 pounds, 43 of those were body fat and only five were muscle. Ninety percent of SB’s gains were in the form of body fat while muscle accounted for a mere 10%.
The blue slice represents the percentage of total weight coming from muscle gains and the red Pac-Man represents the percentage of total weight coming from fat gains during SB’s bulking cycle.
Fat is Defined as Extra Energy
The body stores energy in the from of fat when you consume more than you burn. For example, if you burn 2,500 calories per day and eat 3,000 this extra 500 calories is stored as fat causing weight gain.
With exercise, some of a calorie surplus is used to fuel muscle growth. A bigger calorie surplus however, does not lead to more muscle growth and can still be stored as fat. Exercise does not automatically convert the entirety of a surplus into muscle.
Calories are stored as fat because you are consuming more than you burn. By definition, body fat is extra energy and a result of consuming too much relative to the amount you burn.
Exercise causes damage to muscle tissue which the body treats as an injury and repairs during rest. This repair process causes strength and size gains. Muscle growth requires extra energy (a calorie surplus), but only to a certain point. Because muscle growth is limited, an ever increasing calorie surplus does not necessarily lead to more muscle growth. An increasing calorie surplus can however, lead to excessive gains in body fat. During weight gain, stored body fat is energy the body did not use for muscle growth. Body fat is extra, unneeded energy.
How much extra did SB eat?
SB gained 48 pounds of body weight during his bulking cycle. Of the 48 pounds, only five were muscle, and the rest, body fat. Forty-three pounds of body fat represents the excessive, wasteful and unneeded part of SB’s calorie surplus.
In Part 1, I discussed how much energy is required to gain weight. Typically, one pound of weight is associated with a total surplus of 3,500 calories. If you want to gain one pound, create a surplus of 3,500 calories over a certain period of time above what you normally burn.
SB gained 48 pounds from a total surplus of 168,000 calories spread out over four months (48 pounds of body weight multiplied by 3,500 calories per pound = 168,000 or 10,500 extra calories per week or 1,500 extra calories per day).
The 43 pounds of body fat represents the calorie surplus above what was needed to build muscle. This amounted to a total of 150,500 calories over the four month bulking cycle (43 pounds multiplied by 3,500 calories per pounds = 150,500 calories or 9,400 extra calories per week or ~1,350 extra calories per day).
Of SB’s daily surplus of 1,500 calories, about 1,350 calories were extra. Those 1,350 extra daily calories were diverted into fat storage because the body had no use for them. Remember, calories stored as fat are beyond the energy requirement for muscle growth.
Out of the daily surplus of 1,500 calories, only about 150 per day were used to build muscle. The extra 1,350 had no purpose in SB’s muscle gaining because they were stored as fat.
Extreme Bulking Doesn’t Make Sense
What’s the point of gaining fat when it has no purpose? SB is in worse shape now than when he began. Though he gained five pounds of muscle, (no thanks to his excessive calorie surplus) his body fat percentage increased from 6% to 26% making him much more unsightly than when he began. In addition to negatively impacting his physical appearance, the excess body weight and body fat puts him at risk for a number of obesity related health issues.
This is a hypothetical scenario. But hypothetical does not mean impossible or even rare. This scenario is very typical of the bulking mentality. Bulkers believe gaining a significant amount muscle requires an increase in body fat. There’s a right and wrong way to gain weight. This scenario highlights the wrong approach.
The Bottom Line
Bulking, or gaining muscle the wrong way leads to excessive increases in body fat. Body fat is defined as extra energy the body stores during periods of calorie abundance. Muscle growth requires a certain amount of extra energy. Once the body has all the energy it needs to build muscle, it stores any surplus above this level as fat. Going to the gym on a regular basis is part of a healthy lifestyle. Extreme bulking, excessive gains in body fat, unrestrained eating and non-existent cardiovascular fitness do not define anything that’s even remotely healthy.
Part 3 – The Typical Cutting Cycle
With all the extra fat gained, a bulking cycle isn’t complete without a cutting cycle; a period of time in which the bulker attempts to lose all the fat gained during the bulking cycle. In Part 3 of The War on Bulking, I’ll show you how the typical cutting cycle “works.”