Bulk, cut, repeat – the age old recipe for packing mass onto your frame. I will never quite understand why the vast majority of the gymgoing population accepts that it must say goodbye to six packs for half of the year in order to put on lean muscle.
Drops mike. Just kidding.
You can build muscle without putting on fat, in fact, you can put on muscle while burning fat (the dream, the myth, the catchy headline of click bait fitness advertisements, the task reserved for the genetically elite, the impossible challenge for even the most advanced lifters, right?)
Let’s dispute some of the unfortunate perceptions that many of our colleagues hold.
Let’s Look At the Science (Yes, I Just Went There)
Muscles are comprised 70% of proteins, which points to the fundamental role that proteins have in contributing to muscle growth. In laymen terms, we need protein to get huge bro. Consuming sufficient protein for adequate recovery creates what is called a positive nitrogen balance (recite this in the gym and everybody will think that you are smart). Nitrogen is a compound that is unique to protein, meaning that protein is the only macronutrient through which we can obtain the compound. When the body achieves a positive nitrogen balance, it is in the optimal state for muscle growth, and vice versa; when the body is in a negative nitrogen balance, it is in a poor state for muscle growth. A positive nitrogen balance puts us in an anabolic state and is paramount for efficient and effective recovery. As we all know, optimal recovery is crucial for muscle growth.
How Do I Achieve a Positive Nitrogen Balance?
Eat protein. Simply put, if you eat enough protein to support your recovery you will aid the muscle growth process (although there are many other factors, a few of which I discuss later on, that should be taken into account). Lean protein sources are ideal for a positive nitrogen balance because they include the essential amino acids that your body needs for recovery.
Look to get the majority of your protein through: meat, eggs, fish, whey, etc.
Easy enough. Where Do the Carbohydrates Come Into Play?
From a nutritional perspective, a scarcity of carbohydrates will put your body into a more negative nitrogen balance because carbohydrates, being one of the key three macronutrients, perform essential tasks for your body’s systems. Your body will have a very hard time sustaining energy and muscle growth through the consumption of only proteins. A reliance on proteins for energy can come about if body is lacking more traditional energy sources, but it’s not the ideal source. Carbohydrates are because they allow for glycogen to be stored within the muscles. When carbs are depleted, the body breaks down muscle for energy, which puts it in a negative nitrogen balance and muscle loss becomes more prevalent.
Aim to consume carbohydrates through: rice, oatmeal, fruits, etc.
Cool, What About Fats?
There is such a thing as good fats. These are great for repairing and sustaining cells, improving brain function, and enhancing the absorption of various vitamins. Fats also provide a good source of long-term energy for the body.
Aim to eat good fats through: fish, natural peanut butter, nuts, and eggs.
Okay, Let’s Talk “Bulking”
Bulking commonly refers to the act of eating in a caloric surplus, meaning that you are consuming more calories than your body is burning. When you’re bulking, you will inevitably put on a bit of body fat, as your body has no other option than to store the excess calories. While some gym bros may tell you that this fat will turn into muscle at some point, this is absolutely not the case. Fat and muscle are two completely different entities; you cannot magically turn one into the other. Now that we have THAT out of the way…
Conventional Bulking to Obtain Adequate Nutrition
“So bulking is the route to go because it ensures that I am getting all of the nutrients I need to gain muscle, right?”. Well, look at it this way. If you eat an adequate amount of nutrients, you will be sustaining muscle growth, both from energy and a recovery perspective. Notice I said nutrients, not calories. While eating in a caloric surplus will ensure that you are getting these nutrients, it will also potentially cause you to add extra body fat that you will need to cut during cutting season. Not ideal for aesthetics. There is a very delicate balance to strike that is contingent upon your genetics, lifestyle, and training routine. That is why it is so important to follow a program that is tailor made for YOU.
But whoever you are and whatever you are trying to achieve, please do not do the “dirty bulk”
What is the Dirty Bulk?
The “dirty bulk” refers to the practice of eating junk food (donuts, pizza, etc.) all day, every day as a means by which to put on “ a lot of mass bro”. Fitness enthusiasts that subscribe to this tomfoolery typically never actually begin the process of cutting body fat and wind up looking ridiculous.
Hopefully, you are now armed with the knowledge needed to better understand how your body responds to the fuel you feed it. Have questions? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.