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The Lean Bulk | Healthy Food To Gain Weight

The Lean Bulk | Healthy Food To Gain Weight

If you have been involved in weightlifting for a reasonable amount of time, you are well aware of the traditional bulking and cutting cycle. If not, here is a general summation of what such a cycle consists of: bodybuilders and weightlifters will spend a block of time (be it weeks or months) consisting of heavier resistance training, a surplus of consumed calories, and minimal cardiovascular activity in an attempt to gain as much muscle mass as possible, despite the potential development of body fat.

Following this “bulk” is a period typically regarded as a “cut”, during which the individual increases the intensity of their workouts, spends more time performing cardio, and reduces their caloric intake in an effort to strip away any body fat and reveal all the accumulated muscle mass that they had gained during their preceding bulk.

The Dirty Bulk

healthy food to gain weight These cycles have been proven to be beneficial and effective for the standard bodybuilder’s goals. However, when it comes to the “bulk”, some tend to take measures too far and adopt a “see-food diet,” during which they allow themselves to eat whatever they want with no regard to their health, all in an effort to gain as much weight as possible – this is most commonly regarded as a “dirty bulk”.

While this type of bulk does work in the short run as a quick way to gain weight, it is by no means ideal: the mass intake of food from unhealthy sources such as desserts, fast-food and processed junk commonly results in excessive body fat, suppressed hormone regulation (leading to a less lean body composition, increased free radicals and cortisol production, lower testosterone levels and impaired physical performance), the potential development of a pre-diabetic state (a product of eating excessive amounts of unhealthy carbohydrates), feelings of sluggishness (resulting in sub-par workouts), and an inevitably longer cut cycle following the dirty bulk (meaning a longer time spent in a caloric deficit & more time spent performing cardio). Considering these outcomes, this doesn’t sound like much fun for anyone. There has to be a better way.

The Lean Bulk

Enter the “lean bulk”, during which an individual maintains a proper weight-training regimen and consumes a marginal surplus of calories (typically anywhere from 300-500 calories above their BMR per day) with minimal to some cardiovascular activity. This lean bulk leads to a more gradual weight gain without extra fat deposits, resulting in a longer time frame of muscle development but a significantly shorter cutting cycle when the end of the desired bulk is reached. Not only does this omit an excessive cut, but it is far healthier on the body’s internal ecosystem, providing an elevated metabolism, optimally enhanced hormone production, and improved insulin function.

healthy food to gain weight The lean bulk clearly seems like the healthiest way to achieve quality mass. However, some people may say: “Oh, I just can’t seem to gain weight… I simply cannot eat that much food!” During a proper lean bulk only a minimal excess of calories have to be consumed on a daily basis, therefore making it easier for an individual to hit their caloric and weight gain goals. This can be achieved through choosing healthy, high-calorie sources that are suitable for an athletic lifestyle.

In this article, you will find a list of the individual macronutrients, their benefits to your bulk, and some prime examples of foods guaranteed to aid you in your venture to achieve some serious size.

Carbohydrates To Gain Weight

During your bulk, carbohydrates will serve as your primary energy source, so you’re going to want to consume plenty of them! Carbohydrates not only are used for energy but are also utilized in the prevention of muscle tissue catabolism (i.e. breakdown) – this is exactly what is needed, since your primary goal is to build and maintain muscle. Consume the majority of your carbs before and after workouts, but do not shun them throughout the rest of the day, for recovery is an all-day ordeal. Aim to consume 50% of your daily calorie intake from carbohydrates. Some healthy carbs include:


  • Rice: a dense carb source used by countless civilizations around the world. White rice has less fiber, promoting a faster digestion rate and allowing you to fill up on more of it at once, while brown rice has more fiber & vitamins to aid your health. Utilize both of these at the appropriate times (such as post-workout and at other times throughout the day, respectively).

  • Sweet Potatoes: considered by many as the King of carbohydrates, the sweet potato is a carb, fiber, vitamin, and mineral powerhouse that has been heralded as the go-to energy source for countless bodybuilders. Sweet potatoes can be prepared a plethora of ways, so get creative!

  • Potatoes: another starchy staple, potatoes are rich in carbs & nutrients as well. Although faster digesting than their sweet relatives, white potatoes can be consumed in larger portions for those who need to cram in those carbs. Just be sure to avoid fried varieties (fries, hash browns, chips and tater tots) and opt for baked or boiled potatoes instead.

  • Oatmeal: the staple breakfast food, this hearty grain provides a dense source of antioxidants, calories, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and even protein. As a bonus, the specific fiber Beta-Glucan found in oats has been shown to significantly reduce cholesterol levels, keeping your blood healthy during your lean bulk. Eat them raw in protein shakes or prepare them with water or milk for a hearty meal.

  • Quinoa: this ancient grain has a load of benefits, from carbs to fiber to protein to antioxidants A nice alternative to rice, quinoa is also actually a pseudo-grain, because it is the seed of the quinoa plant – that means that the protein found in quinoa is a complete protein, giving your more bang for your buck when it comes to carb sources.

  • Fruits: despite the daunting evidence concerning fructose’s negative impact on your body, fruits are still highly recommended for a healthy bulk. They provide vitamins, minerals and fiber in addition to being a dense carbohydrate source. However, it is wise to consider your consumption of these with a grain of salt (not literally) – the excessive intake of fructose can result in unwanted body fat deposits due to the way the body processes that specific sugar. That being said, aim for 3-5 servings of fruit per day in addition to your whole grain carb sources. Fructose, the primary sugar found in most fruits, is metabolized by the liver rather than being converted into glucose in the blood stream. This means that fruit is inefficient in quickly replenishing muscle glycogen stores, so it is highly recommended to refrain from fruit consumption during your post-workout meal.

  • Vegetables: although they are mostly composed of fiber, veggies are still regarded as a carbohydrate. Consume a wide variety of all the different kinds of vegetables throughout each week in order to obtain a full range of the antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that they have to offer. Just be sure to not eat too many, as they are low calorie food sources and will fill you up quickly – remember, your goal is to eat a more food!

    healthy food to gain weight

Fat To Gain Weight

The most calorie-dense macronutrient (containing nine calories per gram), fats are crucial for mental cognition, testosterone production, fatty acid metabolization, and all around health – everything you need during a lean bulk. There are different kinds of fats (polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated, & trans), but the only one you should strive to avoid is trans fats (also known as hydrogenated oils). Fats also help absorb key vitamins & minerals, serve as dense calorie sources, and slow the digestion process. Your fat intake should compose around 30% of your caloric requirements. Some of the healthiest fats can be obtained from:


  • Fatty Fish & Fish Oil: crucial for healthy heart and brain function, the essential Omega-3’s found in fish are a fat that is (arguably) the most important dietary source that can be consumed. If eating fish isn’t your favorite, you can also supplement with fish oil capsules instead.

  • Oils: probably the simplest of fat sources, oils are simply low-viscosity fats that can be consumed on their own or used to cook other foods in. Alternate your intake between avocado, coconut, olive, safflower & sesame oils to reap all of their potential benefits.

  • Nuts & Nut Butters: regardless of the type of nut, these provide various types of healthy fats along with some ample protein, fiber and vitamins as well. As a bonus, nut consumption has been shown to promote healthy cholesterol levels and lean body compositions in active individuals!

  • Egg Yolks (Whole Eggs): going against one of the most common misconceptions in broscience lore, egg yolks should not be shunned! Eggs are a one of the healthiest sources of fats we can consume – to put this into perspective, they are literally an incubator of life for baby chickens. In addition to healthy saturated fats, egg yolks have enough vitamins and minerals to qualify as a poor-man’s multivitamin. If possible, opt for eggs sourced from free-range organic chickens, as they will provide more Omega-3’s and conjugated-linoleic acids (another healthy fat). And despite what many old-school fitness enthusiasts may preach, egg yolks do not raise cholesterol levels, but rather improve them – so get crackin’!

  • Red Meat & Dairy Fats: particularly the ones found in organic grass-fed sources, these fats that are often neglected by many actually contain high concentrations of medium-chain triglycerides, which promote a lean body composition via fat metabolization for energy. Just check the label to see if your meat and dairy is straight from the pasture.

  • Avocados: providing monounsaturated fats for heart health, avocados also contain high levels of fiber, potassium and many other nutrients. Their flavor can complement nearly all foods, so add these to your smoothies, omelets, sandwiches or anything else![/su_list]healthy food to gain weight

Protein To Gain Weight

We all know protein is crucial for getting big, but knowing why it is important is another story. Essential for muscle recovery and protein synthesis, dietary protein is necessary for gaining lean mass as it provides the amino acids required for the growth and repair of muscular tissues. There are fatty and lean sources of protein, but always opt for lean sources as you will be acquiring your fats from other more nutritionally-dense foods. Your protein consumption should be somewhere between 25% – 30% of your daily caloric intake. Some of the best healthy protein sources include:

  • Eggs (Whites & Yolks): in addition to being a healthy fat source, eggs contain the most biologically-available protein of any food source, meaning that it is the most efficient food when it comes to protein utilization and its effectiveness in the building of muscle.

  • Dairy: including cheese, Greek yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese, dairy contains ample amounts of protein along with large doses of natural calcium as well, which has been shown to influence a leaner body composition when compared to the results of consuming a calcium supplement. Although available in non-fat varieties, aim for full- or low-fat versions instead as they contain more calories per serving (they will taste better as well!).

  • Skinless Poultry: whether it be chicken, turkey, duck or pheasant, poultry is a staple go-to for high-quality lean protein. Chicken in particular is known for its comparatively high leucine content, an amino acid which can contribute to substantial muscle gains. Just make sure to not eat the skin, as that is a source of unhealthy saturated fats.

  • Lean Red Meat: including lean cuts of beef, bison, and deer, red meats have been looked down upon in the past for their saturated fat content and higher caloric value. However, the quality of red meat protein is extremely high, and studies have shown that the saturated fats included in red meats can actually boost testosterone levels, thus potentially giving you more strength and energy in the gym. Plus, the extra calories will only help you during your lean bulk. Some lean cuts include eye of round, London broil, sirloin tip-side and 95/5 ground beef.

  • Fish: aside from providing healthy Omega-3’s, fish is also an extremely healthy source of protein. From salmon to tilapia to halibut to rockfish, there’s (literally) a sea of variety to choose from! Be sure to limit your consumption of mercury-containing fish such as tuna, shark and swordfish, as mercury is a heavy metal that should not be consumed in excess.

  • Protein Powders (Whey, Soy, Casein, etc.): now, you may be thinking “What?? Why are protein powders at the bottom of the list? This is a bodybuilding article after all…” Although it cannot be denied that protein powders are beneficial for muscle growth, they are still considered a supplement for a reason – they should supplement a well-rounded, whole-foods diet. There is a time and a place for protein powders (such as pre- and post-workout or when you are inconveniently caught without food), however you should make it a priority to consume whole foods during your bulk due to the additional benefits of natural protein sources.[/su_list]healthy food to gain weight

Take-Home Message

Now you are well informed and prepared for your bulk! If you truly need to gain some quick size, a dirty bulk is always an option, however you will most likely suffer the consequences later on down the road. If you have the dedication, time and patience, a lean bulk is highly recommended instead when it comes to gaining healthy mass.

Just be sure that you are maintaining a proper weight-training regimen while consuming a caloric surplus and you are bound to see the scales tip in your favor! Now, what are you waiting for? It’s time to get eating!


Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

Jacob Masters

Jacob Masters

Writer and expert

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