If you want to know how to lean bulk, so you can put on muscle while keeping fat gain down to a minimum, this page will show you how.
What Does Bulking Mean?
Bulking describes a training program and diet set up for the primary goal of building muscle and putting on weight.
During a bulking diet, the idea is to increase your calorie intake so you’re in a caloric surplus. This means taking in more calories than you’re burning off.
While it is possible to gain muscle in a calorie deficit, muscle growth happens more quickly when you’re in a surplus than it does in a deficit.
What’s A Lean Bulk?
There are two main approaches to bulking:
- The dirty bulk
- The lean bulk
Popular in some bodybuilding circles, a typical dirty bulk involves a large calorie surplus, where the quality of the food you eat is a lot less important than simply eating as much of it as you can.
On a dirty bulk, your main goal is to gain weight, both fat and muscle, in a short period of time.
A lean bulk, on the other hand, involves a smaller surplus, with more of a focus on the type of foods you’re eating.
The objective of a lean bulk is still to put on weight and build muscle. However, where it differs from a dirty bulk is that you’re trying to do so without gaining too much fat.
What Are the Benefits of a Lean Bulk?
The main benefit of lean bulking is that fat gain is kept to a minimum.
One of the big problems with a dirty bulk is that you’re going to put on excess fat. If you want your body composition to improve for the better, this fat will eventually need to be lost at some point in the future.
If you’re skinny, you just want to gain as much weight as possible, and you don’t care too much where that extra weight comes from, a dirty bulk will do the job.
But if you want to put on muscle with the minimum amount of excess fat, a lean bulk is the way to go.
How to Lean Bulk
1. Have Realistic Expectations
The first step is to make sure you have realistic expectations about how quickly it’s possible to gain muscle mass. Otherwise you’re going to end up disappointed at the large gap between your expectations and your results.
How much weight can you gain in a month on a lean bulk?
For most people, muscle growth happens relatively slowly. When they’re just starting out, the average beginner might be able to gain a couple of pounds of lean muscle mass per month.
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Your weight on the scale is likely to go up by more than a couple of pounds, as you will be gaining some fat along with the way. Even on a lean bulk, it’s highly unusual to put on muscle without adding a little fat at the same time.
But if it’s pure muscle gain that you’re talking about, a couple of pounds a month is about the limit.
Over time, those gains will slow down, and trainees who have moved past the beginner stages of training might take 3-6 months to gain a similar amount of muscle.
2. Put Yourself in a Small Calorie Surplus
How many calories should you eat to lean bulk? You want to keep the size of your calorie surplus relatively small – somewhere around 10% over and above your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE for short) is about right.
How do you know what your TDEE is?
You won’t be able to calculate your TDEE exactly, but the online calculator below will give you a reasonably good estimate.
Once you have your TDEE, just multiply it by 1.1. For example, if your TDEE is 2500 calories, multiplying 2500 by 1.1 gives you a total of 2750 calories per day.
3. Calculate your Macros
Once you’ve calculated what your daily calorie intake should be, the next step is to calculate your macros, the first and most important of which is protein.
Set your daily protein intake at roughly 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Someone weighing 180 pounds, for instance, would aim for a daily protein intake of around 126 grams of protein per day (180 x 0.7 = 126).
That protein can come from whole foods, such as chicken, eggs, salmon, greek yogurt, beef, turkey, or a protein supplement like whey protein.
Rather than getting all your protein in one or two large meals, it should be spread out throughout the day. Aim for a minimum of 3 protein-rich meals each day, with each meal containing somewhere between 20 and 40 grams of protein.
Ideally, you’ll get some protein within the first few hours after getting out of bed, before a workout, after a workout, and before going to bed.
Your fat intake can vary from 20 to 40 percent of total calories. Some days it might be a little higher, others a little lower. But on average, aim to keep it somewhere between 20-40% of total calories.
Once protein and fat are taken care of, the rest of your calories will come from carbohydrate, such as pasta, beans, rice, potatoes, oats, apples, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables. As well as carbs, these foods provide your body with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
How to Train for Muscle Growth
What does an effective training program look like when you’re bulking?
The first step is to decide how many times a week you’re able to train. For most people, a resistance training program that involves weight training 3-5 days per week will get the job done.
Here are some training programs you can use:
- 3 Day Full-Body Workout
- 3 Day Dumbbell Workout – Push/Pull/Full
- 4 Day Upper/Lower Split
- 4 Day Push/Pull Split
- 5 Day Push/Pull/Legs Split
As far as training volume is concerned, aim for somewhere between 10 and 20 hard sets per muscle group per week.
Beginners will see good results near the lower end of that range, while more advanced lifters typically need more sets to keep making gains.
How many reps should you in each set?
You can build muscle with high reps and light weights (20-30 reps), low reps and heavy weights (5-8 reps), and everything in between.
Always push yourself hard when you’re in the gym, and do your best to beat what you did in your last workout, adding some extra weight here or an extra rep there.
Challenging your muscles is what gives them a reason to grow. In the absence of that challenge, they’ll remain at much the same size they are at the moment.
Finally, there’s no reason to keep changing your workout routine every few weeks just for the sake of it. If the training program you’re using is delivering results, and you’re making gains, then keep doing what you’re doing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you lean bulk and lose fat?
Don’t expect to drop fat while you’re bulking. Losing fat requires a calorie deficit, which means taking in fewer calories than you burn each day. But on a lean bulk, you’ll be in a calorie surplus, which means you’re taking in more calories than you’re burning off.
Can you lean bulk without gaining fat?
Even on a lean bulk, you should expect to gain some fat. While you can minimize fat gain, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to eliminate it completely.
How do you know if you should lean bulk?
Your current body composition is a good way to tell if you should lean bulk. If your body fat percentage is 15% or higher, I’d suggest that focus on dropping fat. If you’re in the 10-14% range, focus on bulking.
Once you get much above 15%, your appearance starts to suffer. A lean and mean 190 pounds (86 kg) at 13% body fat looks far more impressive than a soft and pudgy 205 pounds (93 kg) at 20%, even though the amount of muscle mass you’re carrying around is about the same.
How can I tell if I am not eating enough for lean bulking?
Are you gaining weight? Is your performance in the gym getting better? Are you seeing minimal changes in waist size? If so, chances are you’re eating enough, and muscle gain is happening.
On the flip side, if your waist size is expanding, you’re getting heavier, but the amount of weight you can lift in various compound lifts (such as squats and bench presses) isn’t budging much, chances are that your resistance training program is in need of an overhaul.
What if your performance in the gym is getting better, and you’re putting on weight, but your waist size is expanding far too quickly? In this case, your overall calorie intake is likely too high, and will need to be reduced.
How much cardio should I do when I’m lean bulking?
There’s no rule that says you have to do any cardio at all. Too much cardio, especially of the high intensity variety, does have the potential to put the brakes on muscle growth if you do too much of it.
Rather than eating too much food, then doing cardio to burn off the excess calories, it makes more sense to just not eat those excess calories in the first place.
This article gives you some general guidelines that will minimize the extent to which cardio interferes with muscle growth.
What’s the best meal plan for lean bulking?
There’s no single lean bulking meal plan that’s ideal for all people, all of the time, because everyone has different macronutrient requirements and food preferences. As long as you’re in a modest calorie surplus, and you’re hitting your macros on a consistent basis, you can follow whatever meal plan you like.
Are there any foods to avoid on a lean bulk?
There are no specific foods you need to avoid. It’s your overall diet rather than any one food that determines how much of the weight you gain comes from fat, and how much comes from muscle.
In other words, it’s possible to eat nothing but healthy, natural, nutrient-dense foods. But if those foods are high in calories (i.e. nut butters, olive oil or avocados) there’s still the potential to gain excess fat.
You can set up your diet so that most of your calories come from nutrient-dense whole foods, but still allow room for some pizza, chocolate, ice cream or whatever you fancy here and there.
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