Winter is the perfect time of year to bulk up (or – to be more specific – to eat more, train harder, and add mass). It’s hoodie season, ideal for hunkering down and adding mass under your layers. There are plenty of good bulking foods around. And, for competitive physique athletes, the season has finished and it’s finally time to up the calories and say “yes” to snacks!
What exactly is bulking?
Bulking has a very specific meaning. But does anyone really know what it is?
Strictly speaking, bulking means eating in a caloric excess and training hard in order to add muscle mass. But all those extra calories can lead to a lot of fat gain if you’re not careful. And there’s not a bodybuilder around who’s happy with a bulk that’s mainly fat, and minimal muscle!
The big problem with traditional bulking
Bulking done correctly is a fine balance between eating enough calories to add new muscle, and not overeating. Some fat gain is necessary, but nobody needs to put on so much extra fat that a harsh diet is needed next Summer. Most people cut right back on cardio during a bulk, too, adding an extra piece of the puzzle to a successful bulk. It’s about eating good bulking foods (and enough of them), training hard, but resting enough too.
We’ve asked around in the CrazyBulk office for everyone’s top tips for a successful bulk. Some of the answers surprised us! If you wanna bulk up with minimal fat gain this winter, you gotta read this. Grab a cookie and settle down with our bulking guide.
9 pro tips for your best ever winter bulk
1 – Eat the right amount of calories
When you’re on a cut, you don’t just guess your calories, right? The same should apply when you’re bulking. This is not the time to go yolo with food. More isn’t better. Enough is where it’s at!
Start by increasing your calories from maintenance. Add 10% of your maintenance calories for a couple weeks, then 10% after a fortnight. This takes you to a 20% increase, but the gradual approach removes the risk of bloating, gas, and digestive trouble.
If your maintenance calories are 2500, you’d eat 2750 for the first two weeks of your bulk. If it’s going well, you’d then move to 3000 calories. Got it?
2 – What about macros?
This is where most guys get bulking wrong. You don’t need to crank up your protein intake just cos you’re on a bulk. In fact, most of you can leave your protein exactly where it is (assuming you’ve been maintaining and not cutting). Set protein at 1g per lb bodyweight.
This gives you a lot of scope to eat more carbs or fats. And those things are fun! Choose the best foods for bulking, but remember to enjoy your diet too.
We advise getting most of your extra calories from carbohydrates. This is mainly cos carbs are protein-sparing, and boost workout performance. But it’s also cos you can get more bang for your buck from carbohydrate cals. Remember, carbs have 4cals per 1g. Fats have 9cals per 1g.
By all means, bring up your fats a little. This might mean adding in some treats, having a thicker smear of peanut butter, or choosing fattier cuts of meats and fish during your bulk. Fat is great for health, nourishes your cells, and supports your immune system. Just don’t overdo it – remain within your bulking calories.
3 – You might wanna eat more often
There’s no science behind the “eat little and often” mantra. It doesn’t jack up your metabolism or anything like that. But here’s one good reason for eating more often during a bulk: digestion! If you’re on seriously high cals in your bulk, it might get tricky to spread them out over 4 meals. By all means add in an extra meal, or a couple snacks, if it makes the whole thing easier to achieve.
4 – Protein timing matters
Whatever meal structure you choose, try to eat a serving of protein every 3 hours. This isn’t bro-science, it’s legit. The key to adding new muscle is protein synthesis. You need to put high-quality protein (with a good array of amino acids) into your body every 3 hours if you want to maximise the results of your off-season training.
5 – Bulking supplements?
Supplements definitely have a place in any successful bulk. You don’t need a ton, but there are a few which will massively help with training performance, power output, muscle retention, and mass gain.
A good whey protein
Remember what we just said about getting quality protein, with all the amino acids, every 3 hours? Whey protein is amazing for that. Sure, you might wanna focus on food (tasty, tasty food) during your bulk. But have a good whey protein concentrate or whey protein isolate in the pantry so you can cover your protein bases any day.
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most well-researched supplements on the market. It’s designed to support short bursts of intense training output – like all the hard lifting you’ll be doing on your bulk. Creatine can also support recovery, can help draw water (and nutrients) into the muscles, and can give you a better pump. Something you might be missing now you’re massing! Creatine is a total no-brainer for bulking.
Leucine is the key amino acid responsible for MPS (muscle protein synthesis). We recommend keeping a bag of leucine powder, or a jar of pure leucine tablets, in your gym bag during a bulk. If you’re not sure that one of your meals has enough leucine in the protein, take some more supplementally to cover your bases.
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6 – Train hard but smart
You’re gonna have to switch up your training to pack on muscle in a bulk. The focus now is on load and volume, plus recovery. If you’re usually a train every day kinda guy, have a word with yourself. Cut back on your sessions, use the days off for recovery, and work really hard on your training days.
Structure each session around big, compound moves. Deadlifts, squats, overhead press, rowing movements, and vertical pulls will force your body to grow all over. Bring your rep ranges down from 10-12, to 8-10 (or even lower). Add a couple more sets. Bulking workouts are more “5 x 5” than “3 x 10-12”. By all means, keep in your favorite accessory moves, but don’t do them if your time would be better spent at home recovering.
7 – Nix the cardio
Bulking season is no time for cardio. Some of you will be cheering right now, but others might find it hard to let go of the cardio habit. But listen up. Doing cardio on a bulk is like treading water. You simply won’t move forwards. Think about it; all those extra calories you’ve worked so hard to prep, cook, and eat? You’re burning them off on the stepper! And all that careful heavy training you’ve done? Your body is gonna struggle to repair and grow if you hop on the treadmill.
During your bulk, think activity, not cardio. There are a ton of health benefits attached to staying active. But you don’t have to actually “do cardio” to access them. How about a short walk after the gym? Or a hike or bike ride on the weekend? Take the dog out more often, or just throw in some 45-60 minute walks on your days off. Low-level activity like walking is great for your heart health, supports your cardiovascular system, and can keep you away from the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Going for a walk is also really good for your mental health and general mood.
8 – Recovery as training
When you’re cutting, you sometimes have to get out of bed earlier than you’d like. There’s cardio to be done, and you’ve gotta train twice today! No such problem on a bulk. It’s a sweet pay off: you have more time to rest, as that’s exactly what you need. Do your body a favor during your winter bulk. Go to bed earlier, sleep better, and take naps if you need ‘em. Sleep is absolutely the number 1 thing you can do to support your body during a bulk. And it’s free!
9 Don’t drink your bulking calories
We know, it’s red-cup season. But if you spend your new bulking calorie allowance on fancy coffees, sugary drinks, or alcohol, you’re not taking this bulking lark seriously. Sure, a drink once in a while won’t hurt. Bulking is meant to be fun, after all. But don’t make a habit of it. Use those lovely new calories on healthy bulking foods. Make sure you get enough protein, spaced out throughout the day, healthy carb sources to support your training and recovery, and a little more fat just to make the whole thing more fun.
And that’s the final thing we’ll say about having a successful bulk. Make it fun! Even pro, elite bodybuilders try to enjoy bulking season as much as they can. We know what it’s like: when you’re bulking, you want to diet again (and when you’re dieting, you can’t wait to eat more!) So enjoy your bulking months for what they are. Work hard to put extra mass on lagging body parts, and to bring more balance to your physique. Enjoy the foods you’ve been missing. And spend those rest days catching up with friends, working on other projects, and having a ball!
What’s the most weight you’ve ever seen anyone put on during a bulk? Tell us in the comments below.