As the days get shorter and the temperature cools down, weightlifters everywhere are marking their calendars, for bulking season is upon us. But before you order that cheeseburger and upsize your fries, take a moment to learn the truth about bulking.
What is Bulking?
Bulking, for those who are new to the scene, is a practice used by bodybuilders to gain weight by increasing their daily calorie consumption. The behaviour typically takes place during the winter months, when there are very few opportunities for lifters to publically flaunt their gains. The underlying philosophy behind bulking is that these extra calories will be used to increase strength and muscle size. It’s a cyclical process that is often followed by an equally intense period of leaning out and slimming down. Typically, after a period of excess consumption and weight gain, bulking enthusiast hope to ‘cut’ away any extra fat that they put on, and walk away with newly added lean muscle.
There are two popular approaches to bulking: controlled and uncontrolled (also known as the ‘dirty bulk’). Those who practice the controlled approach closely monitor their intake and strategically keep consumption within a targeted range. Others opt for a less regimented routine and practice the ‘see food’ diet, which involves eating as much as possible without regard for nutritional value. Unfortunately, this cavalier approach is the more popular of the two.
Why it Works
Your body needs fuel to grow. It doesn’t matter how hard you train in the gym, or how clean you eat, if you do not consume enough calories, your body will not have the physical resources required for muscle growth. This is why the dietary component of fitness and bodybuilding is so heavily stressed.
If you’re just starting to work out, you will see faster progress than those who have been at it for a while. If this is the case, you should be able to put on strength and size without much change to your diet. After you’ve been lifting for a while, results will start to come more slowly. Instead of taking the steady path towards gradual body recomposition, many people look for a more efficient way to pack on muscle. This is where bulking comes into play.
Most ‘trained athletes’ can only physically add 1-2 pounds of muscle per month. To keep your gains lean, experts recommend increasing your daily intake by 250 calories. If you’re less concerned with putting on a bit of fat, shoot for an extra 500 calories a day.
Why it Doesn’t
Simply put, a calorie surplus will help you gain weight. If you eat too much or if you don’t perform resistance training, those extra calories will end up being stored as fat. Often times, bulking starts off pretty innocuous, but those extra calories can quickly turn into a complete lack of control, and result in endless weight gain. Once the bulk starts rolling, it is very difficult to stop. This becomes especially troublesome when weight gain leads to a loss of motivation in the gym.
There are also hormonal changes that take place in your body as you shift from ‘growth mode’ to ‘weight loss mode’. These ups and downs can have negative effects on your physical and mental well-being.
Like all-things fitness, your diet should be optimized for your goals. For most modern athletes, this means working towards a good-looking, strong, and healthy body. To achieve this, it usually makes sense to take a slow and steady approach. There’s no point putting your body through unnecessary stress and 6 months of discomfort if it is not absolutely necessary. If you’re looking to bulk up a bit, aim for a controlled calorie surplus and an ample amount of protein. Look to make incremental progress and set a goal to look and feel better every day.
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