How to Design a Bulking Diet

“A skinny guy can’t gain muscle unless he gains body weight”

It sounds simple when you say it like that, but lots of skinny guys don’t realize it. Countless skinny but well-meaning weaklings lift the same weight for months at a time. Then they weigh in at the same weight that they did six months before. And, they wonder why they don’t get any stronger.

“Mass building begins in the kitchen”

This is a truism among successful weight lifters and body builders. When it comes to building muscle, a good bulking diet is of paramount importance. If gaining weight is not part of your muscle-building plan, you will fail.

Designing a weight gain diet that will put lean pounds on your frame comprises several steps:

Figure out how many calories you need to gain weight

You want to gain lean muscle mass. To do this, eat 500 calories per day more than your maintenance level. These extra calories – totaling 3500 calories per week – will add a pound of body weight every week. This is healthy weight gain; a faster rate of bulking will probably result in excess fat.

Drawing of a loaded dumbbell

A pound per week is a good, rough estimate of the rate at which the typical trainee can gain muscle without porking up with excess fat. If you worry about getting fat, get over it. If you are a highly-paid underwear model and you can’t stand the thought of losing your rock-hard abs, then shoot for a pound every two weeks. Otherwise, don’t squander your enthusiasm by gaining too slowly. Put on the pounds while you are still mentally pumped up about making a positive change in your lifestyle.

For gaining muscle and weight quickly, a rough rule of thumb is to eat 50-70 calories per kg of body weight. You can double-check your calorie requirements using the Harris-Benedict equation. In accordance with this diet, a hypothetical 70kg (155 pound) man will eat 3500 calories per day while he is lifting heavy and putting on muscle mass. At this rate, he will probably gain weight and muscle without too much excess fat.

Remember that your maintenance level is much higher than normal when you are working out hard during a mass-gaining program. The worst mistake you can make is to get insufficient calories for building muscle. Feed your body a muscle building diet when you want to grow. Keep accurate records and make sure you are getting results according to plan.

Picture related to bodybuilding diet

Determine the amount of protein you need in your diet.

It all starts with the protein. We will figure out how much protein to include in our bulking diet, and extrapolate the other dietary components from those initial protein amounts. That’s not to say that you want to consume a high protein diet. Many novices think a high protein low fat diet is the way to go. Wrong. Your diet should be balanced and sensible. Everything in moderation.

Let’s say, for sake of argument, you want to get 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. In another article, I explain why this is probably unnecessary, but rather than fight conventional wisdom, I’ll use that figure. As a nice round number, it makes our example easy to follow.

A hypothetical man weighing 155 pounds (70 kg) would then need 155 grams of protein. At 4 calories per gram, this amount of protein is supplying 620 calories.

Calculate how much fat to include in your diet.

Next, add fat into the diet. Be sure not to skimp on the fat. For this bulking up diet, we will specify that 30% of your total calories will come from fat. The hypothetical 155 pounder is planning to eat 3500 calories per day, so he will need to get 1050 calories from the fat in his diet.

At 9 calories per gram, our mass gainer will need to eat 116 grams of fat every day to stick to his planned bulking diet.

Make up the remainder with carbohydrates.

Thus far, our example diet calls for 155 grams of protein and 116 grams of fat, for a sum total of 1670 calories per day. Since we are shooting for 3500 calories, the remainder – 1830 calories – will take the form of carbohydrates. At 4 calories per gram of carbs, we know that we will need around 460 grams of carbs every day during our bulking phase.

  Protein Fat Carbohydrates Total
Mass (g) 155 116 460 731 g
Calories 620 1050 1830 3500 calories

Sample dietary breakdown for a hypothetical 155 pounder on a mass-gaining program

Keep accurate records

It’s one thing to design a good bulking diet. But it’s quite another thing altogether to stick to it.

The key to making this work is to keep accurate records. Either use a free, web-based diet-tracking service, a nutritional profile program, or find the relevant information on the web and keep track of the data in a spreadsheet.

Without accurate data and diligent record-keeping, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Knowledge is power: stick to the plan and make it happen.

Eating frequency for a mass-gaining diet

Generally, lifters will benefit from smaller, more frequent meals. If possible, eat five times a day instead of three. Professional bodybuilders who need to maintain 250 pounds of lean muscle on a bodybuilding bulking diet often set an alarm clock for the middle of the night so they don’t miss their scheduled mid-sleep feeding. The rest of us can get away without waking up to eat in the wee hours of the morning, but the lesson is clear: space your food intake out over the day, rather than gorging all at once.

Get some protein after working out

A strong balanced body is built with compound movements

Immediately after working out, your body is in an especially anabolic state. That is, the rate that protein is incorporated into your muscles is increased. This window of opportunity for enhanced muscle building lasts less than an hour. Every diet for bulking should take this into account.

Eat a protein-rich snack before working out. Afterwards, make sure you get some carbohydrates to fuel your protein synthesis and decrease protein degradation. All evidence is that this is a helpful strategy during a mass-gaining phase. If you absolutely must have a protein shake to feel like you are accomplishing something worthwhile, immediately after a workout is the best time to drink it, but add some carbs to it.

A good bulking diet is simple

There you have it, the muscle building diet. Start with protein, add fat, and top if off with an amount of carbs sufficient for gaining a pound per week. Remember: if your weight stays the same, you will not get bigger and stronger. Keep accurate records and think long-term.

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