Most trainees understand that if they want to add a significant amount of muscle to their frame, a certain level of fat gain is inevitably going to come along with it.
A committed bulking phase involves maintaining a net calorie surplus over time, and it’s just not possible to divert every single calorie you consume toward lean muscle growth only.
No matter how careful you are with your training and diet or how patient you might be, you’ll always gain some body fat if your goal is to fully maximize your progress.
What you can do though is structure your program using a “clean bulking” approach so that you maximize the percentage of calories that are utilized for muscle growth while minimizing those that end up as stored fat.
Although some guys go with the opposite approach of “dirty bulking” and use their muscle building phase as an excuse to stuff themselves with huge amounts of food all day long, this is almost never the best approach for a few important reasons…
1) Your body can only build a limited amount of muscle over any given day to begin with. Eating more calories does not necessarily equal more muscle growth, and once protein synthesis has been maxed out for a given time period, any excess calories you take in will simply be stored as fat.
2) If you get excessively fat during your bulk it could easily throw your entire muscle building plan off track and lead to the typical “yo-yo” approach between constant bulking/cutting that so many guys fall into. They bulk and put on a large amount of fat along with only a small amount of muscle, quickly go back to cutting, and in the end make very little to no progress in either direction.
3) Dieting for fat loss is a tedious process, and the more fat you gain during your muscle building phase, the longer you’ll have to spend cutting later on. Why get excessively fat and force yourself into a long, drawn out calorie deficit when you could instead lose all the fat you need in only a fraction of the time?
So, by going the “clean bulking” route, you will:
* Still build muscle at or near your maximum potential.
* Feel better both physically and psychologically throughout the process.
* Only have to cut for a short time period (if at all) if you do decide that you want to lean down at some point later on.
But what is the best way to “clean bulk” without gaining fat to an excessive degree? How should you structure your nutrition and training to get the very best results possible?
There are two main factors to take into account if you want to employ a proper clean bulking phase for maximum muscle growth and minimum fat gain.
They’re actually fairly simple and straightforward, with one relating to your nutrition plan and the other to your training plan…
On the nutritional side of things, effective clean bulking ultimately just comes down to one basic factor: controlling the size of your calorie surplus.
You may have been told that you need to “eat big to get big”, and while there certainly is some truth to this, most lifters who are just starting out and want to bulk up as quickly as possible end up taking it way too literally.
The goal of proper muscle building nutrition is to consume just enough calories to optimize hypertrophy, and nothing more.
That way, the maximum percentage of your calorie intake will be used for lean muscle growth while the minimum amount will end up as body fat.
If you’re gaining much more than around half a pound of total body weight per week on a consistent basis (or 3 pounds per month at the absolute most), you’re simply going overboard on calories and will need to dial things back.
How many calories should you be consuming per day to minimize fat gains while bulking?
You’ll hear many different recommendations across the board on this, but a safe bet when it comes to effective clean bulking is to consume around 200-300 calories above your maintenance level.
Going a bit higher or even a bit lower can be fine depending on the situation, but as a general rule, a 200-300 calorie surplus will work well for most average lifters.
If you don’t know your current calorie maintenance level (the number of calories you require daily in order to maintain your current weight), you can estimate it by using one of the following options…
Basic Multiplier: Assuming you’re starting out from a relatively lean base of around 10-15% body fat (I highly recommend that anyone committing to a focused bulk be somewhere around this range before beginning), you can simply multiply your current body weight in pounds by 14-16, going with the lower or higher end depending on your overall activity level.
Harris-Benedict Formula: If you want to be a bit more precise, this formula takes additional factors into account including your age, height and gender.
First, you’ll calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate), which is the number of calories you burn at rest without any additional activity…
Men: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 x age in years) + 5
Women: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 x age in years) – 161
Then, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity level…
Sedentary = 1.2 (little to no exercise)
Lightly Active = 1.375 (light exercise: 1-3 days a week)
Moderately Active = 1.55 (moderate exercise: 3-5 days a week)
Very Active = 1.725 (intense exercise: 6-7 days a week)
Extremely Active = 1.9 (intense daily exercise and strenuous physical job)
Once you have your estimated calorie maintenance level (using either the basic multiplier or Harris Benedict formula), just add 200-300 calories to that figure to determine approximately how many calories you should aim for each day.
Keep in mind that this is just an estimate though, so you may need to adjust things up or down once you get going depending on how your body weight changes in response to that particular intake.
If you want a quick and easy way of calculating this along with a complete breakdown of daily protein, carbohydrate and fat amounts based on your stats, you can use my Bodybuilding Macronutrient Calculator to automate the process for yourself.
Most people think that minimizing fat gain during a bulk is only a matter of what they do in the kitchen, but what you do in the gym is equally as important.
No, I’m not referring here to additional cardio sessions or adding any “special” training techniques into your plan…
What I’m referring to here is the very simple fact of ensuring that your overall workout plan is being properly structured and executed in terms of intensity, progression, volume and frequency.
I mean, think about the basic logic of muscle growth for a second…
However, if the initial growth response you attempted to create in those muscles was not strong enough to begin with, your body won’t even require all of the extra calories you’re eating in order to fully recover from the workout.
As a result of that, a higher percentage of your calorie surplus (even if it is a smaller surplus to begin with) will still end up as stored body fat since it won’t have anywhere else to go.
Remember, muscle growth is an adaptive response to stress, and if the stress isn’t high enough then the result will simply be a smaller amount of muscle growth and a higher amount of fat gain.
So ask yourself…
The simple fact is that a lot of guys in the gym just plain don’t train hard enough and aren’t consistent enough with their workouts, and then can’t figure out why they aren’t putting on quality muscle size like they expected.
If you’re eating in a calorie surplus but aren’t generating a sufficient growth stimulus through your training plan, you’ll inevitably end up gaining more body fat as opposed to lean muscle.
As you can see, effective clean bulking is relatively straightforward.
All it really comes down to is:
1) Eating in a small calorie surplus to support muscle growth, but without consuming any unnecessary excess. 200-300 calories above maintenance is a good guideline for this.
2) Ensuring that you’re training hard in the gym from week to week and executing a proper workout plan using sufficient intensity, progression, volume and frequency. This will divert the highest possible percentage of those calories toward muscle growth and away from fat gain.
Follow these simple steps, be patient, and you’ll be well on your way to building that muscular body you’re after with minimal gains in fat.
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