When it comes to adding muscle and size to your frame, there is nothing better than to bulk your way up to it. Be careful though not to take things literally as it will take you to a strange place, without a doubt you would have bulked up but with a major difference, it will largely be fat instead of muscle.
While it is obvious that you will gain some fat if you have decided to bulk up, there is a way to minimize the amount of fat that you gain. It is called Lean (or Clean) Bulking.
Should You Be Bulking?
Before jumping into the main article, lets take a moment to decide whether you should be bulking or not. It is mainly decided by two factors viz., your body fat percentage and your training experience.
Based On Body Fat Percentage
This is something that you will naturally understand, if you have a high body fat percentage then it is wise to first cut down on the extra fat before bulking so that the amount of time you spend cutting is reduced.
Look at it this way, if you bulk even when you already have high body fat levels then the amount of time you will spend in order to get rid of the fat will be more than what you currently will. If you get to really high body fat levels you will need to spend more time in a deficit that hinders muscle growth (or can even cause muscle loss) and is not optimal for your hormones. That is why it is recommended to stop bulking at a relatively moderate body fat level.
Generally speaking the cutoff body fat percent for bulking is about 15-16% for males and around 22-23% for females. This means that if you are above these body fat levels you should cut (lose fat), and if you are under, you should bulk.
Based On Your Lifting Experience
If you are a beginner then you have a very big advantage at your hand, they are often referred to as the newbie gains. In order to make good use of the advantage, it is wise to put yourself in a surplus even if you have more body fat percentage than what I have previously mentioned before.
If you have a body fat percentage of around 30-35% then it is a good idea to first cut and then bulk. The idea is to strip off the excess fat as fast as possible (within healthy limits though) and then start bulking and putting on more muscle size.
What Is Lean(Clean) Bulking
Lean Bulking is a method of dieting that helps you maximize muscle growth and minimize fat gain. Most gym-goers have the idea of bulking as the form of diet wherein you eat everything at sight, which is counterproductive as you bulked to gain muscle mass and not fat. When you are Lean Bulking, it is crucial that you regulate your calories and keep a check on where they are coming from.
Ideally, you should put your body at a Caloric Surplus of 10-15% which in turn will promote faster muscle growth as compared to keeping your body at a deficit which is catabolic in nature i.e., it impairs muscle growth and reduces your performance while working out.
So you will be keeping your body at a surplus but it is equally important to monitor where those calories are coming from. Remember that food is more than a source of just calories and macro-nutrients.
It is also our only way to get the many essential nutrients that our bodies need to stay healthy, ward off disease, and recover from intense training. A good rule of thumb is to get at least 80% of your calories from whole, minimally processed foods. You should ideally be including all these foods in your diet:-
- Green Leafy Vegetables (Spinach, Cabbage, etc)
- Whole Wheat Flour
- Brown Rice
- Dry Fruits
- Chicken Breast
- Soya Beans
How To Lean Bulk
Now you have all the prerequisite knowledge that you need to successfully Lean Bulk. Now, all we need to do is structure the information we have into a step by step plan. Let’s get started.
Step 1: Calculate Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
As you know that we have been talking about being in a Caloric Surplus of 10-15% and in order to do that, you need to know how much calories are you burning on a daily basis. Even though it is not the most accurate tool, it does the job pretty well. Here is a link to a TDEE Calculator – TDEE Calculator.
Step 2: Calculate Your Macros
Once you know the number of calories you need to intake, the next step is to divide how many calories of each macro-nutrient should be there in your diet. So, here’s how you want to set up your macros for clean bulking:
- Eat 1.8 to 2 gram of protein per kg of body weight.
- Set your fat intake at 0.7 grams per kg.
- Use your remaining calories on carbs.
With this blueprint in mind, regulate your diet with high-quality protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and dietary fiber. You should take care of your fluid intake as most gym-goers have the tendency to neglect things as simple as drinking water. Health authorities commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses, which equals about 2 liters, or half a gallon. This is called the 8×8 rule and is very easy to remember.
Keep yourself hydrated as this is extremely important. You should also be careful with food selection and avoid junk and processed food. Try to intake as many calories as you can from whole foods and you are good to go.
Step 3 : Training
If you are a beginner then I would recommend you going for a Full Body Split 3 times per week or an Upper Lower Split 4 times per week. As you progress you can start increasing the volume per muscle group per workout and opt for a Push-Pull Leg Split or 1-2 Muscle Group Per Day type of split.
Your focus should be on Compound Lifts such as Bench Press, Deadlift, Overhead Press, and Squats rather than isolation movements especially if you are a beginner. Compound lifts target more than 2 muscle groups in one go which gives greater benefit and is very crucial if you want to build some serious muscle and strength.
Apart from that, you should be progressively overloading your muscles in order to increase the mechanical stress which stimulates hypertrophy. There are several ways to progressively overload but I would recommend you overload your muscles by increasing the amount of weight that your life (with safety and without ego lifting).
Step 4 : Rest
Your muscles do not grow in the gym, they grow while you sleep. Period. American Academy of Sleep recommends sleeping for about 7-9 hours daily.
- Sleep helps prevents muscle breakdown and promotes fat loss.
- Sleep improves your testosterone and HGH levels.
- Sleep improves workout performance.
Step 5 : Supplements
One thing that needs to be made clear before moving on is that supplements are not nearly as crucial to your success as proper diet and training are. If you are someone who is not making money out of your physique I would recommend you just stick to a high-quality Whey Protein that you can have post-workout.
Even though Creatine Monohydrate, BCAA’S are helpful during the process, they are not a sheer necessity for an average individual. As for multivitamins, I would recommend including fruits in your diet to get your does of vitamins from natural sources instead of tablets.
Apart from that, you can drink a cup of coffee 15 minutes before working out to further boost your performance, even though it is optional.
Step 6 : Adjust Your Food Intake Accordingly
A man can expect to gain about 0.25 to 1 pound per week, and a woman can expect to gain 0.25 to 0.5 pounds per week. If you are gaining more weight than expected, trim 100-150 calories from your carbohydrates or fat intake and monitor your body for the next 7-10 days.
If you’re still gaining more weight then trim some more calories from your Carbohydrates or Fat intake. Similarly, if you are gaining less weight then add 100-150 calories in your diet and monitor your body for the next 7-10 days.
It is all about adjusting to the needs of your body. There’s no specific method, everyone is different. So you have to find what works for you by adapting and without breaking the rules that have been proven.
Step 7 : Patience
You have done everything you can for the process, all you need to do is to have the right expectations and patience. If you are expecting to get buff within 2 months into the process, that is not going to happen, you will need to invest the time and effort before you achieve your goals.
Gaining actual lean muscle mass is tough, and most people can expect a max of around 2.5lb/1.1kg of lean muscle mass per month. For more experienced lifters who already carry significant musculature, this can fall to as little as 3-4lb/1.3-1.8kg per year.
Manage your expectations. You’re not doing a dirty bulk; you’re aiming for a lean bulk transformation.
The Bottom Line
Clean Bulking is a smarter way of adding muscle to your frame instead of force feeding yourself to make your muscles grow. All you need to do is workout regularly where most of the exercises that you perform are compound in nature and then :-
- Calculate Your TDEE
- Calculate Your Macros
- Train Efficiently
- Rest Properly
- Adjust Your Calories
- Have Patience
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