Research has shown that you can only build so much muscle as a natural lifter, and additional calories beyond a reasonable calorie surplus will just result in fat gain. The literature has also shown that building muscle is possible while in a calorie deficit.
Lifters have misinterpreted this and many think, "Bulking will make me fat. Why bulk if I could just build muscle on a cut?" Well, here's the thing: Just because you technically can build muscle while on a fat-loss diet doesn't mean it's the most efficient way.
This generally only happens with beginners or those who carry a lot of excess body fat. Regardless, building muscle while dieting for fat loss is a slow, inefficient process. Your body likes to have focus. If you can barely fill out a medium T-shirt, don't worry about losing fat. Focus JUST on building muscle by going on a bulk.
A few years ago, we had a problem with too many people using bulking as an excuse to eat half a buffet line. This is a surefire way to get fatter than a pregnant cow. But nowadays we see guys who are so terrified of losing their Instagram-flaunting abs they barely ever reach maintenance with their food consumption.
Bulking has almost become completely taboo, and the word automatically makes people think it's strictly a fat-gaining phase. Here's a newsflash for all the bulk haters with toothpick limbs: Bulking is absolutely necessary to build a significantly muscular physique. Most guys who want to build a lot of muscle still need to eat in a calorie surplus for a solid amount of time.
If you don't have the right expectations, you will undoubtedly give up before any significant growth can occur. Here's a few things to understand when going into a bulk:
- Bulking is not a one-time thing. You're not going to build all the muscle you'll ever want with one mass phase. You might have to do a couple of serious bulks each year to even have a chance at eventually reaching your genetic limit.
- Your abs will fade. This is normal and the degree to which this occurs depends on your genetics and your starting body fat levels.
- You will get soft in some areas. This is also normal. You must accept that you will look worse (in places) before you can look better.
- You won't get the attention you normally get because your muscles will be less defined. This is a tough mental barrier to overcome. If you struggle with this, you need to reevaluate your priorities and stop overvaluing people's likes, comments, and compliments when it comes to your body.
- If you're a chronically skinny guy, you'll need to consistently eat to an uncomfortable level just to see small results. This sucks at first, but your appetite will eventually adapt.
Here are some stupid-simple guidelines to follow that will help you build slabs of muscle while minimizing fat gain:
- Consume a reasonable calorie surplus. This is your bodyweight x 14-17 plus 300-500 calories. Aim for higher numbers if you're more active and add 100-300 more calories if you don't see any weight gain in 2 weeks.
- Eat 1 gram per pound of bodyweight of protein each day. This is a simple baseline that ensures you have more than enough ammo to fire up some new muscle growth.
- Eat nutrient dense foods as the base of your meals. Most of what you consume should be lean meats, rice, beans, potatoes, nuts, fruits, and veggies.
- Eat calorie dense foods as an accessory. If you struggle to reach a calorie surplus, include some bread, peanut butter, protein shakes with milk, fruit juices, avocados, and even some occasional junk food.
- Lift weights 3-5 times a week while adding more weight or increasing reps on a few exercises each week.
Remember, the most shredded physiques you see only look good because they carry significant muscle mass. If you only focus on getting lean abs year-round, you'll look small, frail, and weak... which looks just as bad as being fat.