The world of bodybuilding is a weird and wonderful place. It’s a place where it’s acceptable to consume a week’s worth of eggs in one sitting, and to skip hitting the bars and clubs at the weekend so that you can hit the gym nice and fresh and work on your puny calves.
The bodybuilding lifestyle, and make no mistake about it, it is a lifestyle, is certainly not for everybody. The life of a bodybuilder is lonely. It is a life of endless chicken breasts and meals out of Tupperware. It’s a life with a kitchen sink full of shaker cups and it’s a life where you need to be willing to make sacrifices in order to get ahead. Bodybuilding isn’t just about working out a few times per week and maybe drinking a protein shake now and then when you feel like it.
Bodybuilding is a lifestyle that requires 100% hard work, dedication, and focus. You get out of bodybuilding what you put into it, and if you want to succeed, you need to know what you’re doing. Generally, bodybuilders will go through two phases each year. For some of the time, during the off-season, they will bulk up. For the rest of the time, when they are prepping, either for a contest, a photo shoot, or simply a summer holiday, they will cut. But how exactly does one go about bulking and cutting, and is it really beneficial for your long-term bodybuilding goals? Let’s take a look, shall we?
To begin this guide, we’re going to make a start by looking at bulking. As mentioned, bodybuilders will spend much of the year bulking, and the rest of the time cutting. Some of them also go through a maintenance stage, but maintenance is pretty self-explanatory, so we’ll leave that for another day. For now however, here’s a look at bulking.
What is bulking?
For a bodybuilder, bulking is generally considered to be much more enjoyable than cutting. The general idea behind bulking is that a bodybuilder will spend several months focussing on bulking up and adding as much muscle mass to their frames as possible, while also increasing their strength and power. There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of “a summer body is made during the winter“, and that is very true with bodybuilders.
Bodybuilders will often bulk up during their off-seasons. The off-season is where they work on their weaknesses and attempt to fill out their frames and build some quality muscle mass. They will therefore have to increase their daily caloric intakes, train harder, train more intensely, and focus on really pushing themselves in the gym and in the kitchen when it comes to their diet and nutrition.
During a bulk, a bodybuilder will increase their calories to create a caloric surplus. This enables them to build muscle mass, but only if they are working hard in the gym. The idea is to build more muscle mass during a bulk, and to then strip away the fat they gained during their bulk, to reveal a bigger, leaner physique during a cut.
Dirty bulking vs clean bulking
First and foremost, we do not ever recommend dirty bulking. Dirty bulking is a term used in the bodybuilding community, to refer to basically eating vast quantities of junk food and increasing your calories by an enormous amount in order to bulk up and get bigger. Dirty bulking is not only dangerous for your health, it will also cause you to gain far too much fat and water, leaving you with much more work to do during a cut if you do want to eventually have your abs back.
Clean bulking, however, is a process whereby you create a caloric surplus by consuming a diet consisting primarily of fresh and healthy foods. Whereby a dirty bulker will eat pizza, French fries, burgers, and other types of junk food each day, a clean bulker will eat a diet rich in healthy foods with plenty of veggies. They’ll eat healthy foods like: salmon, brown rice, vegetables, steak, whole eggs, chicken, sweet potatoes, pasta, oatmeal, etc, along with healthy fats like: peanut butter, nut butters, olive oil, avocados, oily fish, and coconut oil.
They may also use a mass gaining supplement to help them increase their protein and caloric intakes, without consuming copious amounts of food. They do of course, still enjoy the occasional treat meal, but 99% of the time, their diets are healthy and balanced.
General tips for bulking
If you do want to transform your physique and make some serious gains, you need to carry out a successful bulk. Bulking isn’t just a case of eating one more meal each day and lifting heavier weights than normal. There’s a science behind bulking, and to make it easier, we’ve got some tips that you can follow right now.
– Create a slight surplus in calories
As mentioned, a bulk is a time to build muscle and add mass to your frame. It isn’t an excuse to pig out and eat what you want constantly, just because you happen to be “bulking“.
In order to build muscle, you need to create a caloric surplus. This means that you need to be taking in more calories than your body needs to maintain itself in its current state. Once you’ve worked out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which you can easily do online by using a number of free calculators and tools, you can then begin taking in slightly more calories than you need.
The key to staying relatively lean and not feeling bloated and sluggish, is to create a slight surplus to begin with. if you normally require 2300 calories for maintenance, increase your daily caloric intake to 2600, creating a surplus of 300. This will help you to stay relatively lean and still build mass, without packing on too much size too quickly.
– Assess your strength and train heavy
One of the easiest ways of telling if you are building muscle is to figure out whether or not you are getting stronger. If you are, you’re getting bigger, which is exactly what you need. To build muscle, you need to shock the muscles, and there’s no better way of shocking them than forcing them to work harder than they’re used to.
Many bodybuilders follow a 5×5 training split while bulking, as this is great for building muscle mass and size. Train heavier than usual (always with a spotter or safety gear) and focus on really shocking the muscles. If you are bulking but aren’t getting stronger, or losing strength perhaps, then something is not being done right.
– Invest in a mass gainer
To make life easier for you, it is recommended that you purchase a good quality mass gainer during your bulk. A mass gainer is packed full of protein, which is essential for muscle growth and repair, along with carbohydrates and healthy fats for energy, and to bump up the calorie content. Drinking a mass gainer shake is much easier than forcing down yet another plate of chicken, rice, and broccoli, and it is much tastier too.
– Increase your protein intake
Remember, your goal here is to build muscle. Protein is vital for muscle growth and recovery, and if you aren’t getting enough, you aren’t going to grow. When bulking, increase your protein intake and aim for 1.2 – 1.4g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Again, the bigger you are, the harder it will be to get this amount of protein from food alone, so use mass gainers and protein supplements to help you meet your daily macro requirements for protein.
– Accept a little fat gain is inevitable
Some bodybuilders are so paranoid about being lean and having visible abs, that they don’t actually ever successfully bulk because they don’t want to gain any fat. To build muscle, you need to take in more calories than usual. This means a little fat gain is inevitable. If you aren’t prepared to kiss goodbye to your abs for a while, perhaps bulking isn’t for you.
Now we’re going to talk to you about cutting. Once a bodybuilder has spent however many months bulking up, the next step is to begin a cut. A cut is basically where the bodybuilder suddenly drops his caloric lower, going below maintenance, in order to strip away any excess fat he may have gained during his bulk, in order to reveal his now-bigger physique and show off the muscle he gained which was being covered by the fat.
During a cut, a bodybuilder will basically go on a diet in an effort to lose as much fat as possible, while holding onto as much muscle mass as he can.
Tips on cutting successfully
If you are cutting, either for a contest, a photo shoot, a holiday, or just because you want to have abs and look shredded, here are a few tips to help you out.
– Don’t eat the same meals every day
During a cut, you can kiss goodbye to pizza and foods with more calories and fats in than usual. The idea is to lose weight and create a caloric deficit. Some bodybuilders eat the same dry and boring meals every day during a cut, and they make themselves miserable in the process.
To make your cut more effective, we recommend that you switch things up. Don’t just eat the same dry, bland, boring meal every day – try different things. By trying different things, you won’t get bored and you’ll find it much easier to stick to your diet.
Cardio during a cut is essential. Cardio is vital for fat loss, so make sure you’re doing plenty of it each week. Most bodybuilders will do cardio 3 – 5 times per week, so perhaps aim for that. You could go for a walk, use a treadmill, use cardio machines, play sports, go swimming, go cycling, or anything else for that matter. During a cut, the idea is to burn fat in order to reveal the muscle hiding underneath, so cardio is vital.
– Train as hard as you can
When you drop below maintenance when it comes to caloric intakes, as well as losing fat, you will also lose some muscle. Some muscle loss is inevitable, but it is down to you to make sure that you lose as little muscle as possible. This is where it pays to train hard and intensely. Your strength will drop during a cut, but that doesn’t mean that you need to back off when it comes to the intensity of your training, or the volume. The harder you train, the more muscle you will gain/preserve. Train to failure, train as heavy as you can manage, vary your exercises, sets, reps, and weights, and switch up your routine every six weeks or so.
– Begin your cut nice and early
Some bodybuilders will leave it too late to cut, and will only start cutting a few weeks out from a contest. They will panic, realize they’re not in shape, and will either crash-diet, or work themselves so hard that they make themselves ill. Ideally you want to begin your cut around 12 – 20 weeks out from your contest/goal date.
Experts recommend that you aim for a loss of just 1 pound of fat per week, as this will help you to gradually get leaner, without sacrificing too much muscle tissue. Before you begin your cut, you should have a target weight in mind. Once you have this weight in mind, set your calendar accordingly. If you need to drop 10 pounds, a 12-week cut should be carried out. If you have more weight to lose, begin your cut earlier. Again, this is why we don’t recommend dirty bulking. The more fat you gain during your bulk, the more fat you need to lose during your cut.
– Treat yourself now and then
Unless you are the strictest, most-driven person in the world, a treat meal during your cut will be needed to help keep you sane. A treat meal gives you something to look forward to now and then, and sometimes it can even kick-start weight loss when your progress has stalled. One treat meal every couple of weeks or so, won’t cause you any lasting setbacks at all. Just make sure it’s only a treat meal now and then, rather than an entire treat day every week.