A Beginner’s Guide to Bulking
You’ve probably seen guys strutting around your gym with their boulder shoulders and Himalayan backs, grunting and bashing out rep after rep at the power rack and slaming down huge shaker bottles of thick colored fluid. So do you wanna get big or simply just find out more on it? You've come to the right place so get ready as we help you pack on mass for your next beach party!
Before we dive in to the interesting stuff, let’s start with the more technical aspects.
First of, “The First Law Of Thermodynamics” This basic physics principle states that “the total energy of an isolated system cannot change” and that “energy can be neither created nor destroyed”. So what does this mean to you? Simply put, the energy derived from whatever you eat must go somewhere, be it a simple bodily function such as breathing or a vigorous sprint session. Energy is also used to produce new cells in a process known as anabolism and likewise cells can also be broken down for energy in another process called catabolism.
The basic unit of energy is the joule, which can be converted into the more commonly used kilocalorie(Kcal). If energy from what you eat is not expended these functions, it can also be used to produce new tissue cells, such as high quality muscle! Or more undesirably, adipose tissue or fat.
In essence, you need to eat enough to overcome this energy requirement in order to put on muscle mass. However, this energy requirement varies greatly between individuals, which is why some people put on weight faster than you can say “PUT DOWN THAT BURGER!” and others never seem to look any different even after weeks of gorging at Pizza Hut.
Next up, Muscle Tissue. In every sport, there is a common denominator: Muscle. It is responsible for every action that your body makes, and its fiber make-up, size and stores determine how fast you can move and how long you can last. As with all other tissues in the human body, muscle cells are constructed from amino acids, constituent parts of protein. This process itself requires energy in order to carry out the underlying mechanisms of breaking apart these molecules and reconstructing them into the differentiated cells.
That being said, the body also needs to repeat this process for many other tissues in the body, and accounts for an individual’s main energy expenditure, which also includes one’s daily activities such as moving around. With all these processes tussling for energy, there isn’t much leftover to build new muscle tissue or even to sustain it. For people with high metabolisms, meaning that their body processes require a large amount of energy, it is even harder for them to build new muscle cells because of the lack of energy required to do so!
Moving on, to Net Protein balance,
In the human body, the Net Protein Balance is the difference between muscle protein synthesis (MPS), the rate at which your body reconstructs proteins, and muscle protein breakdown (MPB), the rate at which your body breaks down proteins. For skeletal muscle mass to be created, this net protein balance must be positive, which means that MPS must exceed MPB and this can be achieved by a variety of dietary and training changes (1).
In times of strenuous and intense physical activity, MPS is stimulated but at the same time, it is negated by a similar increase in MPB under fasted conditions and during recovery (1). That means even though you’re working hard in the gym and surviving muscle soreness over the next few days, you may not be building quality muscle at all! So the other option to combat this breakdown of muscle will be to stimulate protein synthesis using protein sources, which also include protein supplements.
However, stimulating this process isn’t enough! Remember the First Law of Thermodynamics? There must be sufficient energy present in order to carry out these processes as well. You can’t build a house with just your bricks and cement and without any workers or equipment to make them happen right? Now, time to enter the macronutrients! I hope I’m not boring you out.
Basically, these are the 3 main groups of compounds that almost all your food is made of, only in different quantities and ratios.
Carbohydrates are large molecules which are basically chains of sugar connected and arranged in different forms. Because of its nature, it is the most efficient source of energy, meaning that your body can extract almost all the energy it supplies. Hence, it is also the most readily available energy source that your body can use. In addition to being an energy source, carbohydrates also used as cell components such as RNA.
Protein are organic molecules that are made up of basic amino acids. It is a unique biological component which performs many different functions, including the synthesis of living cells and catalyzing of metabolic processes. This is why protein in an individual’s diet is so important; it is basically the building block of your body! As with other macronutrients, it can also be used an energy source.
Fats are large biological molecules that are made up of a glycerol molecule with other fatty acids attached to it. It is also an important component in the production of cell membranes, among other unique functions that it performs. They can be further divided into saturated and unsaturated fats, which consist of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It is the most energy dense macronutrient, supplying 9kcal per gram of fat, making it an important source of energy.
Bulking and Growing: The Basics
Don't worry, we are finally at the part everyone is waiting for; what should you be doing?
When people hear the word “bulking”, an image of a bodybuilding gorging on chicken fillets and potato hills usually comes up. As imagined, it does amount to a much higher food intake than usual, along with a proper training program that is designed to maximize stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. In other words, you must be able to supply your body with the necessary raw materials to build the mass, as well as pay the caloric salary for them to be transformed into muscle!
However, your main goal should be to pack on as much quality muscle tissue as possible, and not maximizing the amount of adipose tissue. Hence even though bulking requires you to have a higher food intake, you should only be looking at quality food sources and not simply anything that comes to mind. Here’s a few simple steps to get you started:
1. Estimate your daily energy expenditure: This can be done by using mathematical formulas such as the Harris-Benedict Equation or through online calculators which have already incorporated these formulas such as http://www.iifym.com/bmr-calculator/.
2. Test out your daily energy expenditure: The idea behind this is simple; if your food intake allows you to maintain your weight, that will be a close approximation of your daily energy expenditure. If your weight drops or increases, adjust accordingly by eating more or less until your bodyweight remains stable. The amount of food intake that you need to adjust is dependent how fast your bodyweight is changing. If it drops 1kg or more within a week, it is safe to consume about 300-400 more calories per day and monitor your bodyweight again.
3. Adjust calorie intake: Once you have determined the approximate daily energy expenditure, you can start by adding 5% to 20% on top of this amount, depending on how your body and/or goals. You should also divide this calorie intake into the three macronutrients. Ideally, you should be aiming for 1g to 1.5g of protein per pound of bodyweight, and 0.35-0.5g of fat per pound of bodyweight, while the remaining calorie intake will come from carbohydrates.
For example, a 75kg male who has a daily energy expenditure of 2500 kcal, with a consumption of 1 g of protein/lb and 0.35g of fat/lb should be looking at:
75 x 2.2 x 1g protein/lb = 165g of Protein
75 x 2.2 x 0.35 = 58g of Fat
3000 – (165 x 4) – (58 x 9) = 1,818 kcal
Carbohydrates Needed : 1,818/4 = 363g of carbohydrates
Alternatively, just use the calculator at http://iifym.com/iifym-calculator/
The amount of calories to add to your daily energy expenditure will depend on how fast you want to gain weight, and whether you are susceptible to fat gain. For people who tend to put on fat easily, they may want to go for a smaller increase of 5% to 10% in calorie intake and monitor their progress on the scale as well as in the mirror closely. For individuals who have a really hard time putting on any weight at all, they may want to try a big increase of 20% in calorie intake. These extra calories can come the corresponding amounts and combinations of the 3 macronutrients.
Now where should these extra calories come from? There is little evidence that higher amounts of protein than 1.5g/lb of bodyweight will result in a higher net protein balance, hence an optimal amount would still be within the range of 1 to 1.5g/lb of bodyweight.
However the choice between carbohydrates and fat is more trickey. Ideally, you should be looking at carbohydrates to fill up these calorie goals. But for people who have a high metabolic rate, they may have to consume up to 500-600g of carbohydrates each day just to gain weight! Given the amount of food in the form of carbohydrates, which includes rice, pasta, fruit juice and the like, it may not be entirely feasible or even sane to consume that much food in a day! So this is where fats come in, as they are much more energy dense, meaning that they provide much more energy with a smaller portion. For such people with high metabolisms, they can also choose to consume fat sources such as olive oil and nuts to fill up these caloric gaps, making it much more easier to overcome their daily energy expenditure and have more energy leftover to synthesize new muscle tissue.
4. Monitor and adjust: Bulking is by no means an easy task, and requires much patience and close monitoring to succeed. Once you have had your diet and training plan in motion for a month or so, remember to monitor your bodyweight and physique closely! The key to success in any diet, be in bulking or cutting, is to be consistent and to be able to adapt to changes in your body, all the while ensuring that you are heading in the right direction. Ways to monitor these changes include taking progress photos and keeping a record of your bodyweight in a notebook or an Excel spreadsheet.
Mass Doesn’t Come Easy: The Long Road
Putting on quality muscle mass instead of adipose tissue isn’t easy and it can be a long drawn out process, but it is well worth the results! The above mentioned steps should be used as a base from which you can plan your dietary and training regime on your road to a well-muscled body and will definitely involve changes as you progress. One very important thing to do during this process is to be constantly aware of these changes in your body i.e. putting on more fat than muscle etc, and experiment by making little tweaks to your diet and training. Over time you’ll learn more about these changes, make more precise adjustments and most importantly, have fun in the process!
If you find yourself putting on a lot of fat mass, try reducing your caloric excess to a more moderate amount and compare the effects. On the other hand, if you’re gaining weight at a very minimal rate, try raising your calorie intake a further 5%. Remember, the key to bulking is to be consistent! Ok, I think that’s enough for one session, stay tuned for my next article as I share more on food sources for bulking & supplements for you to look at.
Boon Yew is currently a Business (Administration) undergraduate at the National University of Singapore. He is a strength athlete under Powerlifting (Singapore) and has a passion for strength sports such as powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting and bodybuilding. On the side, he also pursues knowledge in these sports by experimenting and encouraging independent thinking, publishing these findings on his blog: theironcomrade.wordpress.com