This Article is going to be really the basics or the foundation of exactly how to bulk & build muscle.
Although the article title says “beginners” it’s really for anyone who wants a better understanding of bulking.
How do you actually structure a bulk or a bulking diet?
What you’re about to read is how I do it.
It’s not the only way, it’s how I personally approach it.
This is in itself an extremely complex subject and everybody’s individual situation is different, so what you read here is just a guideline, but a very decent one.
I’m going to go through everything that you need, in terms of, foundation-based tools to allow you to build muscles.
I’m going to address THREE things.
Those 3 things in order of priority, are:
By the end of this article, you'll have yourself a war-chest of tools that you can use to get gains, and effectively help you build muscle in the next 2-3months.
Let’s get started brother.
Get this straight right off the bat…
You cannot build muscle if your diet is not correct. FACT. Period. THE END.
You just can’t do it, it’s like trying to build a house without bricks, just NEVER going to happen.
There’s a couple of things that you must understand when it comes to diet to allow you to bulk, to allow you to build muscle.
The first thing is...
Caloric surplus effectively means your body is in a state within any 24-hour period where you are consuming more calories than you’re burning in that same 24-hour period.
If you are not in a caloric surplus state, you simply cannot gain weight, it just won’t happen.
Like I said earlier, it’s like trying to build a house without bricks, it’s just NEVER going to happen.
How do you get yourself into a caloric surplus?
The first thing you need to do is, take a good two to four weeks and get yourself a new diary or notepad just like this one:
Write down everything that you put in your mouth.
When you do this, make sure you’re currently in a maintenance calories state. So, your body weight is not changing, it’s consistent.
This would be a good time for me to mention that if you have any sort of eating disorder, where your weight is wildly fluctuating up and down, then stop reading now, because this is out of the scope of what I can help you with.
There is a ton of information on eating disorders out there and it’s just not my area of expertise.
For 99% of you reading this, your weight should be pretty much consistent and you can keep reading.
First, your bodyweight must be consistent …so you’re consuming enough calories to satisfy your calorie expenditure, that is what is called maintenance calories that I just mentioned.
Meaning: Your calories in, are equal to, your calories out.
You need to figure out what your maintenance calories are.
And that’s why I recommend taking yourself two to four weeks before you even start your bulk.
Get yourself a new diary, get yourself a book like the one above and write down everything that goes into your body and how much it weighs.
Then you can hop online, there’s a bunch of decent calorie counters online, MyFitnessPal is a really good one.
I know MyFitnessPal gets mentioned a lot, but it really is good and they have the largest database of foods out of all of them.
Just ignore the fact that appears to be aimed at weight loss and all that stuff.
We’re not interested in that.
All you’re using it for is to just get the calories and nutritional values that’s in food.
Alternatively, you can simply Google how many calories in whatever food you’ve written down and you can figure out approximately how many calories you are consuming per day to keep you in this maintenance level.
It won’t be absolutely perfect, but good enough.
This will give you the info you need to figure that out.
You just need to have a rough idea approximately what your maintenance calories are.
That’s going to take you about two to four weeks to do it and you want to make sure that in this time, that your body weight is staying virtually constant.
That’s when you know you’re in a maintenance calories state.
Once, you've figured out how many calories per day is going to get you in that state, only then do you plan your bulking diet.
For this you need a calorie SURPLUS.
Go 500 calories above your maintenance calories and that’s my recommended point that you start.
Consume 500 more calories than your body actually needs (above maintenance remember) each and every 24-hour period and that’s going to put you in that caloric surplus.
I DO NOT RECCOMMEND YOU GO OVER 500 CALORIE SURPLUS.
Macronutrient timing, how many grams of protein, how many grams of carbs, how many grams of fat should you should be aiming for within each 24-hour period is covered here..
This is quite simple, a lot of it does depend on genetics and your metabolic capacity (genetically) as well.
Once you’ve got your caloric surplus, you know how many calories you’re consuming per day, then you can go and break that down.
Supposing you want to get 40% of those calories from protein, 40% of those calories from carbs and 20% of those calories from fat.
40% of your calories from protein, 40% of your calories from carbs and 20% of your calories from fat.
Keep in mind that 1 gram of protein is worth 4 calories, 1 gram of carbs is also worth 4 calories, 1 gram of fat is worth 9 calories.
So the math would look something like this:
Based on a bulking diet of 4,000 calories. (just as an example)
Consuming 4,000 calories a day, and that’s your calorie intake or calorie input – puts you in a caloric surplus.
40% of that 4,000 calories is 1,600 calories.
So that’s how many calories you want to get from protein, it’s also how many calories you want to get from your carbs.
You take that 1,600 calories/4 (divide) to figure out how many grams of protein, how many grams of carbs you need.
That’s going to give you:
Then that last 20% of those calories is going to come from fat.
So, 20% of that 4,000 calories are about 800 calories, 800 calories/ 9 calories is about 80 grams of fat per day.
So, that particular person has a good place to start, we’re looking for 400 grams of protein per day, 400 grams of carbs per day, 80 grams of unsaturated or good fats per day.
That’s how you break down macronutrients to get them in that caloric surplus.
That’s just a good example for you to use.
One thing you have to keep in mind is, with maintenance calories and calorie surplus, your maintenance starts here.
This is your output, this is your intake, you raise calorie surplus by 500 and you start putting on weight.
When you start putting on weight, you start putting on muscle, what happens is that those maintenance calories climb up.
As it climbs up, you get heavier, as you build more muscle, to a point where what originally was a calorie surplus of 500 calories is now maintenance.
If you want to keep bulking, if you want to keep gaining weight, you have to keep going above with your calories.
When you reach those sticking points, when you reach those plateaus, in terms of your diet, you got to push your calories up more, push them up more or push them out more.
As a rule of thumb when you’re bulking, especially when you’re on a long bulk, say a 20-week bulk, is just to eat and make sure you increase in calories.
20 calories per week, 50 calories per week, a hundred calories per week… whenever you need to ensure you are continuing to gain mass, gain muscle, and gain weight throughout your bulk.
Make sure that you are continually pushing yourself into a calorie surplus and that’s a really good way to avoid those plateaus that can occur during a bulk.
Another common question with bulking, especially from guys in particular is they ask…
There’s a couple of ways to do this.
First, understand this, when you are trying to build muscle, there’s always going to be some sort of fat gain associated with it.
Whenever you’re in a calorie surplus, not all of those calories are going to be used by your body to build muscle.
There’s always going to be a little bit of fat gain that comes along with bulk.
That being said, bulking or off season is never an excuse to go and eat whatever the hell you want and gain all kinds of fat.
Because when it comes to dieting and trying to cut up again later on in the year or next year, it’s going to be that much harder.
Be realistic and know that you are going to put on a certain amount of body fat.
If you follow the calorie surplus (I laid out above), 500 calories in surplus and then continually increase week by week depending on how your body reacts and how you put on weight, your fat gain is not going to be that substantial.
But don’t use bulking or off season as an excuse to eat whatever the hell you want because all you will do is gain a bunch of fat!
The last thing with diet, and this is particularly important at the moment because there’s a lot of stuff going around about meal timing – loads of debate on Facebook and social networking sites at the moment in particular.
So meal timing is what I’m going to talk about now..
Okay, so you know how many calories need to be in surplus, you know where your proteins, your carbs and fats are coming from.
The next step is…
To be completely honest with you, so long as you’re in that caloric surplus within any 24 hour period and so long as you’re eating your required amounts of protein, carbs, and fat within any 24 hour period, within reason..
….it doesn’t really matter how many meals you get those calories in.
If you’re trying to fit 4,000 calories, 400 grams of protein, 400 grams of carbs and 80 grams of fat into one meal per day, that’s completely ridiculous because you just won’t be able to do it.
It’s a stupid amount of food, you just won’t be able to do it.
Even if you are actually some world class eating champion and you are able to consume that much food in one sitting, your body is just not going to be able to absorb all the protein or the carbs fast enough, it’s just not going to happen.
A lot of it is going to be passed through your digestive system as waste and straight down the toilet!
Your body does not have enough digestive enzymes to be able to digest all of those macronutrients in one sitting.
In reality, (within reason) meal timing doesn’t really matter, what I suggest when bulking is try and eat as frequently as you can.
So, if you can eat every two hours, fantastic eat every two hours.
If you’re going to eat every four hours, fantastic eat every four hours, if you’re stuck with three meals a day then that’s what you can do.
If you have work commitments or some other sort of commitment you can only get breakfast, lunch and dinner and that’s it.
Do Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A quick word about Intermittant fasting
I don’t recommend it when you’re trying to bulk just because you can’t fit that many calories in within a restricted eating window.
You’re just not going to do it, your body is not going to absorb all the macronutrients you need.
You'll notice, I spent a lot of time talking about Diet.
Because it's so frikking important.
Once you’ve got that sorted out, the training is really quite simple.
Train ONE muscle group per week.
…and in terms of how you split (known as a training split) that up, there’s one golden rule that you have to keep in mind.
The first thing you have to recognize is your body does not build muscle during your workouts.
When you train, and actually lift weights in the gym, you are breaking down muscle tissue.
You are stripping muscle tissue, you are breaking it down, you are damaging muscle tissue and then when you rest after your workout is finished, your body rebuilds and re-heals that muscle tissue and if you’re eating correctly, you’re in a calorie surplus – that muscle rebuilds itself bigger and that is how you build muscle.
You don’t build any muscle when you train, you build muscle when you rest.
Once you understand that concept it becomes really easy to understand the concept of direct and indirect muscle stimulation.
Here’s an example...
When you train your chest, you are directly stimulating your chest muscles, you are also indirectly stimulating your deltoids and your triceps.
You’re also going to stimulate some triceps through all of your pushing movements.
Another good example is with back, whenever you work your back directly, you’re going to indirectly train biceps.
Whenever you train quads directly, you’re going to indirectly train your hamstrings, those are the three biggest ones.
Keep that in mind when planning your training split.
You would not want to train your chest on a Monday and then triceps or shoulders on a Tuesday.
Simply because you’re not giving your triceps and shoulders enough time to rest, rebuild and repair muscle tissue, in between being indirectly trained with chest and directly trained the day after on the Tuesday with Triceps (in this example).
When you go and set up your training split, training each muscle group directly one time a week you have to keep in mind what is also getting indirectly hit.
You could do:
I recommend 2 consecutive rest days per week, these can be whatever days you want, I just personally like to have the weekends off.
If you set it up like that (and I highly recommend you do), if you actually go and write it down …you’ll see that you train chest on Monday, you indirectly hit delts but they don’t get trained until Tuesday.
You indirectly hit triceps they don’t get trained until Friday.
You train your back on Tuesday so your back is directly trained on Tuesday, you also hit biceps but it’s so good because your biceps don’t get hit directly until Friday.
The last one is your quads.
Train your quads on Wednesday, which indirectly hits hamstrings but that’s fine.
You are allowing yourself enough rest for muscle groups that get indirectly hit before directly hitting them again, that’s when those muscle groups are going to rest, repair, rebuild – that’s when you’re going to build muscle.
That's the golden rule when setting up your training split.
You can set up your own if you want to, but just keep in mind that you’re direct and indirectly hitting different muscle groups.
In terms of, exercising sets and reps, the best way to train when you’re trying to build muscle is what I call muscle hypertrophy.
Here’s what I’m talking about…
Your workout should include between 4 to 6 exercises.
Within those exercises your looking for 3 to 4 working sets and each of those working sets should be 8 to 12 reps.
Your muscles start to fail between 8-12 reps.
This doesn’t include warmup sets, this is actual working sets.
Another really important point is when I say working sets, I’m talking about muscle failure every single working set.
You do a bench press, you’re training the chest, your first exercise is bench press, don’t get up in the gym and do yourself 12 reps on your first set without failing and count that as a working set.
That’s not a working set – that’s a warmup set!!
You should be failing between 8 to 12 reps on each and every single one of your 3 to 4 working sets.
Most important thing is, you have to push your muscles pass what they want to do, which means pushing them to failure with each and every working set that you do, you have to do that.
That’s going to cause your body to rebuild and re-heal muscle tissue and combined with the calorie surplus that’s going to help you build muscle.
If you’re not pushing your muscles to failure on each and every working set, you’re not going to make as good gains as you possibly could following this bulking plan I’ve laid out here in this blog post.
There’s a bunch of research on testosterone production and cortisol levels and hormones and all of that kind of stuff during training that I won’t get into here.
I might cover it in a future post, but it’s far too much to cover right here and right now.
Keep your workouts below 60 minutes so no longer than an hour of actual intense exercise. I actually recommend 45 minutes.
Of course, if you’re training with the mates and you’re talking and you’re on Facebook and instagraming while you train, You’re not really putting in the work.
Train and get your workouts done, then go home.
And, the last thing with training is cardio.
I get asked about cardio when you’re trying to bulk or build muscle all the time…
If you are going to do cardio, you just have to keep in mind that cardio is going to burn calories and it’s going to increase your calorie expenditure.
So, maintenance calories, calorie intake, you go surplus.
If you start doing cardio at your maintenance calories, that won’t work. You need to push your surplus up once again.
Cardio burns calories, you have to account for those calories.
Everybody asks what are the most important supplements when you’re trying to build muscle, when you’re trying to bulk.
In order of priority, first is:
Get yourself a good protein powder that’s going to fit into your diet.
It just makes it easier getting your proteins, carbs, and fats in your overall calorie intake in every single day and not having to eat enormous amounts of whole foods to do that.
I’m a big fan of casein protein before bed when you’re building muscle, when you’re trying to bulk.
In fact, I take casein protein pretty much all year-round.
That’s a slow digesting protein that you take before bed.
It’s going to help keep you anabolic during the night, a constant flow of amino acids while you sleep.
I’m a big fan of protein powder, a big fan of casein protein before bed.
That’s your first priority.
Your second priority is your Pre-workout supplement.
So, your branch chain amino acid supplement in particular, if you can get a good branch chain amino acid supplement that has carbohydrates in it, even better for Pre-workout because you get all of awesome hormone response and Insulin response in particular.
This keeps your insulin levels up, keeps your cortisol, your stress hormone levels down and just helps you train harder for longer and make sure you’re not breaking down muscle tissue and branch chain amino acids.
So, a good Pre-workout with carbohydrates or if it doesn’t have carbohydrates, get yourself a good intro workout and then get yourself a good intro workout carb and combined them together.
Your third priority is the following:
Creatine is going to help you body synthesize the Triphosphate, which is what your body uses for energy when it taps into the phosphate energy system, which is the energy system your body uses when you lifting weights.
Your multivitamins are going to keep you healthy, making sure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need.
And then fish oil is a fantastic source of, of essential fatty acids.
You know as well as I do that the supplement list is endless.
The top 3's are; protein powder, you Pre-workouts with carbohydrates, and then you create a new multivitamin, you’re fish oil, everything else comes after that.
Make sure that you have those three supplements in your locker when you’re trying to build muscle because the effects on your results are going to be huge.
It’s going to help keep you on track, making sure that you’re getting the most out of your bulking program.
We started with diet, we moved on to training, we moved onto the real basics of supplements.
If you’ve got any questions about this article, bulking in general or there’s something that you want me to elaborate on, send me an email.
Looking for a bodybuilding workout program that incorporates all of this? Click here for Muscle Express Training.