Ask the Expert: How Can I Bulk Up?Nov 11, 2021
Most of us want to lose weight, but sometimes you find yourself asking, “How can I bulk up?”
Skinny folks, trainers, and bodybuilders alike all know that getting big is hard. Over the years, some of the most frustrated clients I’ve ever worked with were those who were trying to gain mass.
How to Eat for Bulk
Getting big is hard, but it’s not impossible.
For sure, if you want to gain weight, you’ve got to eat more than you usually do. But, now that we know more about performance eating and nutrient timing, the best way to increase your bulk isn’t to spend all afternoon gorging yourself at an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.
Instead, by centering your diet around healthy, calorically-dense foods, you can get big without putting on the excess fat you see many bodybuilders carrying when they’re in the offseason.
Here are a few of the critical nutritional elements for adding bulk.
The three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) will play a key role in your quest for bulk:
- Protein is consumed throughout the day to build and repair muscles.
- Carbs will be consumed before, during, and just after the workout for energy.
- Fat will help add calories to post-workout and evening meals.
2. Nitric oxide
Nitric oxide, or NO, boosters are also popular. The science supporting them in certain populations is decent — and getting better — but keep in mind their role is to help you train harder. They won’t make you big.
Your tests should be straightforward. If they improve your workouts, then they are good. If not, you’re wasting money. Pretty simple.
Then there’s creatine, still one of the best supplements around for training. Generally, I recommend it post-workout, but you may prefer to take it during your workout as well. That’s fine. This supplement’s been on the market for 30 years, under great scrutiny, and is still shining bright. Research confirms that good old creatine monohydrate is the form that’s still the most effective.
4. Other nutrients
B vitamins, amino acids, beta-alanine, carnitine, et al. are all popular pre-workout ingredients with varying amounts of science showing effectiveness.
Again, you need to make the call, but keep in mind, as is the case with nitric oxide, these things are only working if your workouts are better. They are, therefore, straightforward to test.
How Do I Bulk Up Without Gaining Fat?
Bulking up without gaining too much fat, often referred to as “clean bulking,” depends on the quality and timing of your meals. Here’s a breakdown of what you should be eating throughout the day.
To give yourself energy for your training session, focus on eating carbs (for energy) and maybe some protein (to maximize amino acid availability). Keep the amount of fat you ingest relatively low, as excess dietary fat will sit in your digestive tract and hinder your workout.
Apart from whole foods, you can also amp up your performance with pre-workout supplements like LADDER Pre-Workout. Taken 30 to 45 minutes before exercise, LADDER Pre-Workout is designed with ingredients that studies show help increase energy and focus and delay fatigue.*
It contains L-citrulline, which promotes nitric oxide, creatine, beta-alanine and theanine that all help you get more out of your time in the gym.
There are supplements during your workout that can help you train harder. I do not include food here because you should be eating plenty during the rest of the day, so you shouldn’t worry about running out of blood sugar and muscle glycogen during your training sessions unless they are longer than 90 minutes. The exception is simple carbs (or sugars), which are the foundation of most intra-workout supplements because they absorb quickly, transporting targeted nutrients.
Here things start to get cool, as strategic recovery is where you can quickly put away a lot of calories. First, you’ll want to drink a low-calorie post-exercise drink, such as LADDER Whey or Plant Protein, within 30 minutes of training.
This is also a great time to take more creatine and other targeted supplements because your insulin is spiking, and you will utilize those nutrients very efficiently. One hour after your workout, you should eat again. Now is an excellent time for a high-protein, high-fat smoothie that contains an insane number of calories and tons of nutrients.
If you trained hard — and you’d better — your muscles will still be starving for nutrients, and these calories should go down easy. This “starvation window” is something you’ll learn to greatly appreciate.
4. Evening Meal
This should be the inverse of breakfast (and possibly lunch if you didn’t train until later in the day). It should contain fewer carbs, mostly in the form of veggies, and much more fat and protein. Don’t eschew carbs altogether. Just scale the meal, keeping in mind that you eat carbs for energy, and you’re not going to be very active until the next day.
5. Before Bed
Recent studies have confirmed that the classic bodybuilder routine of consuming protein before bed can raise amino acid activity during sleep. If you’re a big guy (190 pounds or more), 40 grams of protein, preferably a slow protein (like casein), right before bed can help you recover faster than usual.
Even with a perfect strategy, eating more than your body wants is hard work. But you really only have to do it once. Once your body is big, and used to being big, your caloric needs will level off to more manageable numbers.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation
Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit
Role of carbohydrate in exercise
The effect of nitric-oxide-related supplements on human performance
International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine
Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update
Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance
Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training
Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?
The Impact of Pre-sleep Protein Ingestion on the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise in Humans: An Update