Someone wake up Green Day, September has ended…
…And now that I’ve shown my age a little, let’s get to the point of this article.
Summer officially ended a couple weeks ago and it’s time to trade in your tank and trunks for a hoody and sweats.
Although you’re super lean from that summer shred, you’re no longer going to be able to show off your striations underneath your warmer apparel.
You could continue along the path of “shreddom”, depriving yourself of every major holiday that is right around the corner.
OR you can get with the times, change up your goals, and put on some size with this lean bulk guide.
After all, it is bulking season.
What is a lean bulk?
There are two types of bulkers:
- Those who go with a lean bulk.
- Those who go with a dirty bulk.
What separates the two is an attention to detail and an understanding that building true, lean muscle takes time. We’re not talking weeks. We’re talking months (even years depending on your goals).
You’ve likely encountered a dirty bulker before. They’re the guys and girls who spend the fall downing pizza, burgers, and pints of ice cream with no regard to total calorie counts or nutritional facts aside from maybe protein, because, well… it’s #bulkingseason.
Been there, not proud of it.
Not only is the practice nonsensical from a general health perspective, if you’re not careful, you might end up adding some serious fat mass to your frame this fall.
No one wants that.
That’s where a solid lean bulking plan comes into play. A lean bulk is a bulk in which the bulker gradually increases their total calorie intake until they’ve put themselves into a slight caloric surplus.
Once in this slight calorie surplus, the trainee can sustain it while gradually putting on muscle over the course of his/her bulk. The majority of the calories they consume will be from whole food sources, but to ensure they meet their calorie needs, they may choose a more calorie dense food option from time to time (i.e. they eat a bowl of ice cream vs a dirty bulker’s pint).
The increase in calorie consumption will allow you to go just a little bit harder in the gym, aid in your recovery, and allow you to crush all of your lean bulking goals.
Now, let’s get this post summer lean bulk started the right way.
Step 1: Find out Your Calorie Needs
The first step to a successful lean bulk is establishing a slight calorie surplus. To do this, you need to find out your daily calorie needs.
Try out our bmr calculator. The number you get from it is a good estimate for how many calories you need to eat each day to maintain your current weight.
From there, you’ll need to add calories to create a calorie surplus optimal for muscle growth. My recommendation would be to start off small and add +250 calories to your bmr.
Track your progress. Gains should come gradually; if you’re experiencing any more than 0.5lb of a weight change per week, your calories may be too high. (Keep in mind, with a bulk, you may experience some water retention. Be sure to track your overall body fat percentage as well as the scale can be deceiving).
After a couple weeks, you may want to add another +100-250 calories to your daily calorie totals. Be gradual in adding calories, especially if you’re coming off a long period of being in a calorie deficit.
By adding calories back in slowly, you’ll limit your risks of adding fat while maximizing your potential for lean muscle growth.
I’d recommend revisiting the bmr calculator monthly as you gain weight to get a new bmr estimate to base your surplus numbers off of. As you add muscle, your daily calorie needs will increase and what may have started off as a surplus could turn into your maintenance needs.
Step 2: Figure Out Your Macronutrient Needs
The next logical step in setting up your lean bulk is figuring out your macronutrient needs so you can accomplish all of your muscle building goals.
The most critical macronutrient for repairing muscle broken down via resistance training is protein. Having adequate protein intake is an absolute necessity in achieving your goals.
However, there’s a lot of misinformation out there on adequate protein intake. If you’ve read enough, you’ve probably noticed there’s an “optimal range” that can go from 0.5-1.5+ grams of protein per pound of body weight.
That’s quite the range.
With that said, in a caloric surplus, you likely only need to stick within the 0.5-1.0g per pound of bodyweight, with around 0.72g per pound being the sweet spot (according to the most recent research)1.
That’s not to say you can’t eat more protein. You just might not see any added muscle building benefit from it.
But what about carbs and fat? Truth be told, so long as your protein intake is adequate and you’re eating the appropriate amount of calories for your goal, whether you eat a high fat or high carb diet likely doesn’t matter (barring those who have metabolic inefficiencies)2.
Personally, I like to go with 0.45g of fat per pound of bodyweight and then round out my caloric needs from carbohydrates. But you have to experiment a little and find out what macronutrient breakdown works best for you.
Step 3: Find a Muscle Building Workout
You won’t build any muscle unless you kick-start the muscle building process. This is best done through resistance training.
Weight training breaks down your muscles, so you can build them back up by doing all the right things outside of the gym.
So, which is the best workout for building muscle? Personally, I’d go with a predominately hypertrophy-based style of training during a lean bulk. Some of these workouts are great options:
- 10 Week Mass Building Program
- 6 Week Workout Program to Build Lean Mass
- 12 Week Program to Get Huge
- 4 Day Maximum Mass
- Max Adaptation Upper Lower (MAUL) Workout
Another route you could go with is increasing your intensity, and focus on adding a little strength. Some would argue that if you’re increasing your calorie intake, you should increase your level of intensity within the gym to build strength during a bulk.
Ultimately, that’s going to come down to your goals and your preferences. If you like to lift heavy, lift heavy. If you like higher volume, stick to hypertrophy training. If you want to experiment a little and go heavy on your main lifts and focus on hypertrophy on your secondary lifts, well then that is the ultimate hybrid my friend.
The perfect workout program will vary from person to person, and there may be multiple perfect programs for each individual. You have to experiment a little and find out what works best for you AND what you enjoy doing.
Step 4: Sleep, rest, recover
Time spent outside of the gym is arguably more important than the time you spend in the gym.
On your off days, you should be going on low intensity recovery walks (weather permitting) and working on your mobility. If your goal is to build muscle, you’ll likely sacrifice mobility work within the gym. So, make it a priority on your rest days.
You’ll be surprised how far a little mobility work indirectly takes you on your quest to building lean muscle mass. You also have to be sure to get plenty of sleep each night, preferably 7-9 hours.
Sleep is absolutely critical to your lean bulk goals. And the quality of your sleep matters just as much as the quantity.
Need resources to fix the quality of your sleep? Read these:
- Hacking Your Sleep 101: Nine Tips For Better Gains
- Sleep Science: Nature's Most Effective Performance Enhancer
- Sleep Science: Nature's Most Effective Performance Enhancer (Part 2)
Since the days are shorter, you shouldn’t lack the opportunity to get plenty of sleep. So hit the hay early and often this fall to maximize your muscle growth potential.
Step 5: Measure, track, and reassess
How are you going to know if you’re making progress unless you’re tracking it?
There are 5 main ways you should be tracking your results during your post summer lean bulk:
- Workout Journal: To make sure you’re making progress in the gym.
- The Scale: To see if you’re putting on weight.
- Body fat calipers: To make sure you’re putting on the good kind of weight.
- Measuring tape: To see where you’re putting on inches.
- Progress pics: Noticing the change of size in your muscles.
If you track all of those things, you’ll set yourself up for guaranteed success.
How? Because you’ll know exactly how your training, diet, and sleep are affecting your results. If you aren’t making lean gains, it is likely going to be one of those factors.
Are you ready to put on lean mass this fall? I know I sure am!
Follow these 5 steps and you’ll crush those mass building goals you have:
- Figure out your calories
- Figure out your macros
- Find a workout
- Sleep, rest, recover
- Measure, track, reassess.
Do you have any other tips for those about to bulk this fall? Let’s carry on the conversation in the comments section below!