Bulking for an athlete can be a tricky process. You definitely want the strength and pure muscle mass and size that come with it but you absolutely don’t need the extra fat…unless you are a sumo wrestler!
And when it comes to bulking, there seems to be a general misconception that, for a certain period of time, you should be eating uncontrollably in order to gain muscle and strength. People tend to relax during this period and lose track of their meal plans all in the name of “gains.”
In order to grow muscle, you should, in fact, be in a caloric surplus but this process should be executed in a very methodical and controlled manner. When you are in a caloric surplus, or eating more calories than your body needs for its normal functions, you need to be strategic to ensure that the majority of the weight gain consists of muscle. You will inevitable gain some fat when bulking and, if you are not monitoring your bulk very closely, you will gain more fat than you should. When this happens, after each bulking cycle, you will have a harder time gaining muscle and a harder time losing the fat you gained. It’s a vicious cycle and you might be feeling awesome when you jump on the scale but you are actually sabotaging yourself!
If you are dirty bulking and gaining more fat than you should, here is what you are REALLY doing to your body:
1. More Stored Body Fat = Less Testosterone = Less Gains!
Stored body fat contains an enzyme called AROMATASE. This enzyme shifts the equilibrium of testosterone production converting more Testosterone into estrogen (the female hormone). This additional production of the female hormone makes it harder for you to gain muscle and causes you to store even more fat starting a snow ball effect. You have probably noticed that women naturally store more body fat and this is in big part because of estrogen. Since testosterone is key in maximizing muscle growth, you should stay away from anything that will interfere with its levels or worse yet, convert it into estrogen.
2. More Stored Fat = Lower Insulin Sensitivity = More Fat!
Insulin plays a key role in how much fat you store because when you eat carbs, the glucose causes your body to release insulin. These insulin spikes have a negative effect and cause fat burning in your body to stop. To minimize this issue, you want to promote high insulin sensitivity so your body releases less insulin when you eat carbs.
When you bulk and gain body fat, more specifically abdominal fat, you decrease your levels of adiponectin, a protein that promotes the elimination of excess fat in your tissues and improves insulin sensitivity. This become a vicious cycle where the more fat you accumulate, the more insulin you release which, in turn, causes fat burning to stop.
3. Less Stored Body Fat = Better Distribution Of Nutrients = Easier Time Growing Muscle!
As you get leaner, you grow more muscle because your body gets better at nutrition partitioning. Nutrition partitioning is the process of how you direct the nutrients you consume and what you utilize as source of energy when you exercise. When you ingest nutrients, these can go to your muscles to help them grow or be directed towards storing fat. On the other side, when you burn calories, you can utilize stored fat as energy or muscle tissue as energy breaking down your hard earned muscles. When you get leaner, your body gets “directed” towards sending nutrients to the muscle tissue and towards utilizing fat as energy making it even easier for you to get even bigger and leaner. When you “dirty” bulk, you throw off this cycle causing you to work harder to achieve the same goal.
4. Once You Get More Fat Cells, They Can Get Smaller But They Don’t Go Away!
Studies have shown that, as an adult, you can gain fat cells once you have acquired too much body fat. These fat cells tend to be stable and even if you lose significant amounts of weight, the cells will get smaller but not decrease in number. You can avoid this by controlling your bulk and preventing fat cells from increasing significantly in number.
These are just a few of the negative consequences of gaining excess fat and, in order to prevent these from taking place, here are some general guidelines on how to bulk properly:
Your “growing muscle cycle” should be just as controlled as your cutting cycle. You should be counting your calories as you normally would when trying to lower body fat. Do not convince yourself that you can eat whatever you want in the name of muscle gain. Your body has a limit as to how much muscle it can gain in a period of time. If the number on the scale is rapidly increasing, chances are, most of that is fat
You should be in a calorie surplus if you want to gain muscle and a general rule of thumb is to be above your daily maintenance calories by 250 to 500 calories depending on your current build.
Your ratio of macros (protein, carbs and fat) is still critical. You should be eating lots of protein to support muscle growth, enough carbs to supply energy for your workouts and a controlled amount of fat to promote testosterone production.
- Eat quality foods. It is ok to treat yourself with your favorite foods every now and then but this should not be the norm! You should be eating wholesome foods with plenty of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Vitamins and minerals play a key role in nutrient absorption by your muscles, regulating testosterone levels and many other important processes.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what proper bulk means and the consequences of losing control. Don’t fall for the trap that eating junk is cool and that you can look big and shredded doing it. Unless you are one of the few people with the fast metabolism to support this lifestyle, get your mind right and start bulking and cutting the right way to support YOUR performance and YOUR goals.