Bulking Without The Fluff: How To Pull Off The Perfect Lean Bulk

Labor Day has come and gone, which means that summer is officially over. Never mind the fact that it’s still damn near 100 in much of the South, as far as we’re concerned, summer is done for. This means fall is here, pumpkin spice latte’s are about to be all the rage, and girls rocking Uggs and leggings on campus will soon become again. Thank the Lord.

It also means that bulking season is nearly upon us. If you’re a lifting bro, you know there’s nothing better than bulking season.

For those who don’t know, bulking season a glorious time of year in which a bro “eats big to get big”. We like to lift heavy ass weights, and eat all the food. Every bite is usually justified with, “I’m bulking”.

This has been the bro cycle for years. It’s almost like our way of preparing for hibernation. Like bears, we bulk up and eat a ton to gain muscle that we hope to show off next spring. Unlike bears, we really don’t need all the extra fat that usually comes with bulking.

Bulking done badly.

Bulking is often done wrong by most. They take bulking to mean that it’s a free pass to eat anything and everything they want, which can turn into a ton of excess fat gain.

Seriously, it’s not uncommon for some bros to pack on an extra 15lbs over the course of a few months, and wind up at 20% body fat or more. That’s called doing it wrong.

The truth is, when you’re bulking, that isn’t an excuse to suddenly start looking like you’re working on your dad bod. In fact, that’s the last thing you should be doing. Bulking is all about adding muscle mass, but while attempting to stay relatively lean.

When should you bulk?

Let’s make it really simple. If you’re a bro who is above 15% body fat, don’t even consider a bulk. You haven’t earned the right to bulk yet. Sorry.

The reason is that at that body fat percentage you’re not hormonally primed to make use of nutrients like you want to during a bulk. You’re still carrying too much excess body fat that needs to be stripped away.

Ideally, you’ll get down to around 10% and then steadily bulk for a few months. Never getting higher than 12-13% body fat. This makes sure that you’re primed for optimal nutrient partitioning, or utilizing nutrients to build muscle and burn fat.

This also saves you a ton of work later on. If you’re 15% body fat, go through a “dirty bulk” where you eat everything in sight, balloon up to 20% and gain 10 extra pounds, you’ve left yourself a ton of work to do in the spring.

Dropping 10% body fat isn’t easy, and can easily take 10-12 weeks. Fuck that. Save yourself some time, man. Stay relatively lean, and only make yourself diet for a few weeks.

How to pull off the perfect lean bulk.

Lean bulking, or building the most muscle possible without adding a ton of fat, is entirely possible. It’s just written off by many who just use bulking as an excuse to eat whatever the hell they want and wind up looking like they don’t even know how to lift.

The key is finding your maintenance calories. Finding out how many calories it takes for you to maintain your current state is important, as it allows you to adjust by adding more calories, which is necessary for gaining muscle.

One of the simplest ways to do this is by using the Katch McArdle formula, and then adding an extra 20% percent on to that number to cover activity, thermic effect of feeding, etc. Katch McArdle works so well because it uses existing body fat percentages. That’s pretty damn important, since muscle is a more metabolically active tissue than fat.

We’ll use a fictional bro to create an ideal lean bulk. A 170lb bro who is 10% body fat would find his maintenance this way:

  • Katch McArdle = 1,869 calories is the BMR, or basal metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn per day just to stay alive.
  • 1,869 calories + an additional 20% = 2,243 calories, or estimated maintenance.

Keep in mind this is a rough estimate, since maintenance is really a range of calories instead of a set point. If you want to get really dialed in, spend about two weeks eating at your estimated maintenance and seeing if you notice any changes on the scale or measurements.

In order to bulk, we need to get over maintenance, so we’re going to start with a subtle 200 calorie per day increase. This may seem like a small amount, keep in mind we’re trying to keep you as lean as possible. Adding in an extra 500-800 could lead to excessive fat gain, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

Our fictional bro would have a new daily calorie goal of 2,443 calories.

If that’s not causing any change on the scale, then continue adding 100 calories per week until we see the scale starting to reflect a change.

How should your calories be broken down?

In order to bulk and stay as lean as possible, organizing your macros is paramount, but it’s not rocket science.

  • Start with a rule of 1g of protein per pound of body weight. Our fictional bro would eat 170g of protein, or 680 calories.
  • For carbs, start with 1.5g per pound of body weight, this would give our bro 255g of carbs, or 1,020 calories.
  • Fill in the remaining calories with fat. In this instance calories of protein and carbs have totaled to be 1,700. This leaves us with 743 calories remaining. Divided by 9 (fat is 9 calories per gram, unlike protein and carbs which are both 4 calories per gram) equals 82.5g, or 83g.

Our bro would be eating 2,443 calories per day, and his macros would be:

  • Protein: 170g
  • Carbs: 255g
  • Fat: 83g

If he wanted he could take away some fat and add in more carbs, it’s up to him. These are just baseline numbers to start with.

What to keep in mind.

Bulking isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re not already lean. If you’re carrying more body fat than you should, your body isn’t primed to bulk. You’re not making use of nutrients like you should, and your hormones aren’t primed for bulking. Before you even think about bulking, you need to get down below 15% body fat.

The calorie recommendations are a starting point. Judge progress by the scale, pictures, and measurements. If those aren’t going up, then add in more calories, just do it slowly. The name of the game is reducing fat gain, while adding as much muscle as possible.

Happy bulking season, bros.