Have you ever seen a bodybuilder lift three times their bodyweight and watch in awe, wondering how they do it?
The answer is bulking.
Bulking isn't foreign to the bodybuilding community, although it may be a new concept for those who are just beginning their fitness journey.
Bulking is deliberate weight gain caused by eating more calories than you expend daily. When coupled with heavy lifting and adequate amounts of protein, this allows for rapid muscle growth and strength gains.
But how do you know how much to eat? What should I eat? Is there a point of too much?
On top of this, how should I structure my workouts? Do I lift light or heavy? How often should I increase my weight?
Finally, what is the often-overlooked importance of sleep? How does this help bodybuilders build obscene amounts of muscle?
Eating High-Quality Foods
Unfortunately, eating a couple of pizzas a day won't do the trick if you want to put on some serious muscle mass.
At a very basic level, weight gain happens when you eat more calories than you burn. The best way to calculate the number of calories you burn daily is by using an online calculator. You can use our TDEE calculator.
Once you know how much you burn, the goal is to eat more than that to put on weight. However, there is a caveat.
What you eat is just as important as how you eat.
Eating junk food will certainly lead to gaining weight, but it won't help you gain muscle. It's a slippery slope, a fine line to walk.
Many bodybuilders fall into the trap of consuming bottomless pits of junk food, thinking it'll get them massive. And it does, but they're overweight and out of shape, with no extra muscle to show for it.
The ideal caloric surplus, or amount of calories above your maintenance, is around 500 calories per day. 500 calories per day leads to about an extra pound of weight gain per week (500 calories x 7 days = 3500 calorie surplus per week).
The foods you consume need to be packed with complex carbohydrates and good sources of protein. Carbohydrates are necessary for fueling tough workouts, and protein helps facilitate muscle growth by providing the body with the mandatory amino acids for muscle repair.
To ensure you're consuming a sufficient amount of protein, whey protein is a great supplement to increase protein intake. Check out this portable whey protein container to help store extra protein on the go!
On top of this, nutrient-dense foods are far superior to junk food in the world of bodybuilding. Opt for nuts and olive oil (food with lots of calories and nutrients) over pizza and ice cream (unhealthy fats and empty calories).
The second part of the muscle-building equation is ensuring that you're giving your muscles the necessary stimulus to grow.
Lifters who simply mosey around the gym and just pick up whatever they feel like will not see the same progress as someone who is methodical about how they train and lift weights.
The two pillars of sufficient muscle stimulus are lifting heavy weights and following a program for progressive overload.
With these two tools in your tool belt, you're fully equipped to lift weights you've never even dreamed of.
Lifting Heavy Weights
For strength-building purposes, heavy weights are best. A study published in 2014 showed that training with loads greater than 50% of your maximum weight led to substantial strength gains.
So while light weights may be good for hypertrophy, lift heavy for real strength!
The idea behind this is that lifting light weights challenges muscle endurance but not total strength. By lifting heavy, weightlifters are receiving the type of muscle stimulus that is needed to gain strength.
Next up is progressive overload.
Think of progressive overload as the tortoise in The Tortoise and the Hare. Slowly but surely, over a long period, progressive overload ensures that your workouts are providing increasing amounts of stimulus.
This can be accomplished through the following avenues:
- Lifting heavier weights
- More repetitions per set
- More overall sets
- Less rest time in between sets
In short, increasing volume or weight is the best way to build muscle.
Be patient and watch your strength gains explode!
The Importance of Sleep
Muscle growth occurs at the most unexpected time: when you're sleeping.
Generally, muscle growth is thought to occur in the gym. While what you do in the gym is important, how you recover is equally, if not more, important.
You see, lifting weights breaks down muscle fibers; the real gains come from making those fibers bigger and stronger. A large part of this process is sleep!
A study performed in 2018 determined that sleep deprivation, or inadequate amounts of sleep, impaired the ability to maximize strength gains in the gym.
The issue is that not only does a lack of sleep impair muscle synthesis, but gymgoers also physically lack the energy to get through a tough, sweat-inducing workout.
As a general guideline, aim for 7-9 hours of deep sleep to maximize muscle growth!
Eat big, lift big, and sleep big, and you'll see the number on the scale and in the gym skyrocket. You're well on your way to being an absolute behemoth!
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