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Basic Guide to Bulking

What Is Bulking?


Basic Guide to Bulking

There are two main phases or cycles in bodybuilding: ‘Bulking’ and ‘cutting’. Bulking basically means providing the body with a surplus of macronutrients, so that it is encouraged to build muscle, although this can lead to a slight increase in body fat. Cutting is the process of stripping away body fat, whilst maintaining muscle mass. This article aims to provide you with a basic guide to bulking, covering everything you need to know to start building mass.

If you listen to bodybuilders, or get involved in bodybuilding forums, you have probably heard the terms ‘clean bulking’ or ‘lean bulking’. Lean/clean bulking is the idea of gaining muscle mass whilst maintaining or even losing body fat. While this sounds ideal, it is very unlikely that any decent amount of muscle mass will be gained without an increase of body fat. Hence the need for the cutting cycle.

A properly managed bulking phase will provide the body with everything it needs to grow, from quality foods, without overstepping the mark into ‘Dirty Bulking’ territory. In a nutshell, Dirty Bulking equates to an excuse to eat junk food, but can be very effective if you’re not concerned with a slight increase in body fat. Speaking on a personal note, I have found somewhere between a clean and dirty bulk cycle to be very effective. Getting my calories from clean sources on the most part, but not avoiding the foods I enjoy.

Ok, so now you should have a clear idea of what bulking is, any what it aims to achieve, let’s talk about how to go about it.

Basic Guide to Bulking Macronutrients


Each and every item of food is made up of the three main macronutrients (or ‘Macros’ for short):

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fat

These macros are present in all foods in varying amounts, and all three are required to enable the body to grow. It will take some experimentation to find what works best for you, as everyone is different, but the ideal ratio of protein:carbs:fat is 40:40:20.

Protein


Eggs are a great source of protein - Basic Guide to Bulking
Eggs are a great source of protein – Basic Guide to Bulking

Pretty much everyone knows that in order to build muscle mass, you will need to up your protein intake, but the question is, by how much? I have often seen guys starting out at the gym, with the intention of getting big, thinking that all they need to do to increase their protein intake is to have ONE protein shake a day. Let me tell you, this is a massive understatement!! It is widely accepted, after years of research, that a bodybuilder needs approximately 1.5 grams of protein, per lb of bodyweight, every day in order to sustain any real growth.

Protein isn’t just needed for building muscle. It is involved in almost every biological process in the human body. But in the same breath, new muscle cannot be created without protein. It is the amino acids, or ‘building blocks’ of protein, that are required to create new muscle fibre – or repair muscle fibre that has been damaged as a result of training. It is the process of damaging and repairing muscle fibre that contributes to gains in muscle mass.

As a brief overview, protein is also responsible for:

  • Insulin release. Insulin levels spike when protein is absorbed, resulting in increased protein synthesis, reduced muscle breakdown, and increased production of glycogen from carbohydrates.
  • Glutamine production. Glutamine promotes water retention which also increases protein synthesis, aids digestive health and plays a role in nitrogen (NO2) donation for many anabolic processes. Glutamine is also very effective at keeping catabolism at bay.
  • Boosting the immune system. The body needs protein to manufacture antibodies. The amino acids Glutamine, Histidine and Arginine are key to immune system, and a deficit of any of these will quickly cause the body to become catabolic, as muscle tissue will be broken down in order to release the required amino acids.

Protein Foods


A cornerstone in the basic guide to bulking diet is chicken breast. But it needn’t be breast – as long as the skin has been removed prior to cooking, any part of the chicken will do. This also applies to turkey. Steak is very effective too, providing that the fat has been removed. If unlike me, you have an apettite for fish you’re in luck: Salmon, Cod, Sea Bass, Tuna, Red Snapper, Haddock and Herring are all fantastic low fat sources of protein. Steer away from shellfish though, as it can be high in fat compared to its’ protein content.

If you cannot get your hands on protein throughout the day, do not fear. Don’t be afraid to take a couple of protein shakes to work with you, as these are ideal mid morning/afternoon snacks. After all, you shouldn’t be going more than 2-3 hours without taking in food.

Fat


Fat is thought of by most people as a very negative thing. The word ‘fat’, is associated with high body fat and being overweight, but there are great advantages to be had from including the right amount of fat in your diet. Take Omega-3 oils for example. These have dramatically increased in popularity over the last decade, as a result of the many advantages of taking them, such as reducing triglycerides (fats) in the blood stream.

Just as there are essential amino acids in protein, there are essential fatty acids in fat. The word ‘essential’ means that these substances can not be produced by the body, and must be ingested through food or drink. Fats go hand in hand with good health, but are only required in small amounts. You may remember earlier when we discussed the ideal macronutrient ratios: 40:40:20. This means that only 20% of your diet should consist of fat. If 20% sounds a little high, please don’t forget that fat is also used by the body as a source of energy.

If it is not possible for your to analyse your macronutrients on a daily basis, to ensure you are hitting your ratios, don’t worry. The main thing to concentrate on initially is making sure that you are getting enough good fats, and avoiding bad fats.

  • Good fats. Omega-3 fatty acids, derived from oily fish, fish oil and flaxseed oil etc. Your body will extract Omega-6/9s from a good quality, balanced diet. This is also the case for alpha linolenic acid and gamma linolenic acid etc.
  • Bad fats. Saturated fats and trans-fats are the ones to avoid at all costs, while monounsaturated fats are fine but are very high in calories, so a little will go a long way.

Carbohydrates


Carbohydrates on their own do very little towards muscle growth. Their main role in life is to provide the body with energy, although carbohydrates are not essential as the body can derive energy from both protein and fats. The role of carbohydrates in the bulking cycle is to provide the vast majority of the body’s energy requirements, so that it doesn’t need to eat into its’ protein stores. If the body is using protein for energy, it cannot be used for building muscle, and it really is as simple as that.

Carbohydrates fall into two main categories: simple, and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars, and are quickly used by the body so are of little benfit to a bodybuilder. Complex carbohydrates are chains of three or more sugar molecules, linked together. These long chains of sugars are known as starches, and provide the body with a sustained energy source over a longer period of time. Non refined, unprocessed sources of carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, sweet potato etc. are ideal, as these will control insulin levels, keeping you away from catabolism and minimising fat storage.


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