The eat big to get big rule is well-known, and most agree that you need to eat more – or move less – to gain weight. Here, however, the agreement ends – and a hot and chubby topic of bulking creeps up. Many athletes advocate eating clean all year around, others follow the if it fits your macros approach and others eat as much as they physically can, with no foods off-limits. But what is a bulking diet, and is fat gain an inevitable part of bulking?
What is a bulking diet?
There is no strict definition of bulking which adds to the confusion. In general, “bulking up” can be considered a nutritional strategy of consistent, increased energy intake facilitating weight gain. Day in and day out you eat more than you need to put the weight on, though unfortunately increased food intake will inevitably lead to rise in body fat.
You may wonder why your body can’t simply use the extra energy stored as body fat to build muscle. This does happen; many studies show sedentary people gain muscle and lose fat without changing food intake after introducing some mild cardiovascular exercise only. These gains aren’t significant don’t continue for long.
It is also worth mentioning that it is possible to gain muscle and drop body fat percentage while eating more. This does not mean that you lose fat while gaining muscle. Instead, it means that you gain more muscle than fat. This is when we talk about the quality weight gain. Check the table below to see an example of the deceiving math.
|Bodyweight||154 lbs.||165 lbs. ↑|
|Body Fat Percentage||10%||9.7% ↓|
|Body Fat||15 lbs.||16 lbs. ↑|
|Lean Body Mass||139 lbs.||149 lbs. ↑|
You can see that 11lbs were gained, and even though 1 pound of that was fat, overall body fat percentage went down. Awesome results with very little fat gain. For most people this requires a meticulous approach, involving carefully calculating calories in your diet and matching them to daily activities.
Unfortunately genetics play a big role too. Studies on twins showed that some pairs have been more resistant to overfeeding than others and gained less body fat than others, despite being overfed with the same amount of food. It is important to keep that in mind. For some being shredded all year around will come easier than for others, for which it might mean calorie counting, the treadmill and hunger drudge.
Some dedicated people will fight the odds, trying to stay lean all year around and battling their weaknesses – that is what iron sport is about. However, fear of eating more and getting fat may compromise your muscle growth. Naturally, if you are happy with your muscle size and you just want to stay healthy whilst enjoying fitness lifestyle – fantastic. Keep doing what are you doing. But, if you want to get huge and you are prone to end up on a chubby side, you may need to come to terms with losing your abs for few months.
You would not expect to make serious improvements lifting the same weight over and over again, so why would you expect gains eating the same amount of food? As your muscle mass grows your metabolism will speed up, so your diet should be progressive, slowly raising the amount of calories.
Is fat gain inevitable?
Putting on too much fat is counter-productive. Insulin resistance is thought to be caused by an excess of fat in the body, which is a state where muscles become less responsive to the most anabolic hormone known to man: insulin. It can also lead to low-grade systemic inflammation and hormonal dysfunctions, which can trigger health issues. This can make losing fat in the future incredibly difficult!
The body fat level at which fat is “too fat” is very subjective and depends on the individual, as body fat distribution is a genetic factor. Some people may store more fat around their midsection, meaning the don’t lose sight of your abs rule practiced by many is invalid. Sticking to a strict body fat percentage limit when bulking is not recommended; instead focus on recognizing signs of insulin resistance.
Weak pumps during workouts and lack of appetite are strong indicators that your bulk should come to an end. Insulin resistance is associated with a reduction of nitric oxide production, vasodilator which makes your muscles swollen and vascular. It is also associated with leptin overproduction – satiety hormone – which can in turn makes it difficult to eat the numerous-meals-a-day required to bulk.
If your goal is to put size on you need to eat more: your diet should be progressively rising in calories as your lifts are getting progressively heavier. Depending on your genetic resistance to overfeeding you may gain some body fat as a result, and the amount of acceptable body fat gain is individual. Instead of looking out for your abs, pay attention to signs of losing insulin sensitivity.