Bulking for Women (and Men Too)

Bulking can be pretty intimidating, especially when you research the topic and it most articles seem to be geared toward men. But fear not! Today I’m going to go over some of the tips that I’ve picked up over the years of my cut and bulk cycles.

What is a bulk?

A bulk just means you’re intentionally gaining weight in an effort to build muscle.

This can seem pretty counter-intuitive to someone new to working out, especially if you’ve just spent a long time LOSING weight. You’re finally at your goal weight and now the next progression is to gain some of it back? Let me explain.

To keep it simple, your body wants to use the energy it has as efficiently as possible. Building muscle requires energy, which comes from food you’re eating (calories). If you’re dieting and losing fat, your body doesn’t want to use those limited calories that it needs to function to build muscle!

Now of course there are exceptions to this, but overall you’re going to have a much easier time building muscle if you’re eating in a slight surplus or at least at maintenance (eating the same amount of calories as you burn). Your body won’t have to choose where to spend it’s energy because it has enough calories for running itself AND building muscle.

Should I bulk?

Bulking is a great way to put on muscle to get the physique you want, but not everyone should bulk.

If you still have a lot of weight to lose, a bulk probably isn’t the best idea. First try to get down to your goal weight or somewhere in that arena. Once you’re at a comfortable weight (average BMI), then you’ll be able to put your all into a bulk. Again, a bulk is just about building muscle more efficiently. This doesn’t necessarily mean putting on a ton of excess fat, just enough that your body can prioritize muscle growth.

Keep in mind that after a bulk, most people do a cut in order to lose that excess fat they gained during the bulk.

Basically the idea is to gain a little extra fat so you can build muscle faster and with less stress on your body. Once you’re at a spot where you’re happy with your muscle gain, you then shift into eating at maintenance and slowly start cutting again. Now you may lose a little muscle during your cut, but if you keep the weight loss slow and make sure you’re eating enough protein, the muscle loss will be minimal and you’ll end up with more muscle than you had before the bulk.

Now this bulk and cut cycle may not be for everyone, and that’s completely fine!

Maybe you spent a long time getting the weight off and you’re hesitant to intentionally gain some of that weight back. Or maybe you’re still working on your relationship with food and just want to eat at maintenance. This is perfectly fine.

You don’t need to do a bulk to gain muscle!

Stick to eating at maintenance and you will absolutely see muscle growth. Sure, it may take a little longer, but you’ve got a lifetime to do it, so what’s the rush?

But if none of this applies to you and you’re ready to take your training to the next level, then a bulk may be perfect for you. Personally I love bulking in the winter and cutting in the summer. It gives me the freedom to go off my diet for a good portion of the year and eat lots of tasty stuff, but also lets me have the discipline and toned physique for the other half of the year, which turns out to be a great balance for me.

You’ll also really start to fill our your clothes. Now it may be uncomfortable at first to see yourself starting to gain weight, but I promise you if you stick with it you’ll love the results once cutting season rolls around! Try to embrace your body at all stages and always keep in mind that you’re building a masterpiece under there!

What should I eat on a bulk?

Alright now we’re getting to the fun stuff: food!

There aren’t too many rules when it comes to what you should eat during your bulk. In general, just make sure you’re not eating too much and that you’re getting enough protein. That’s it!

It’s generally recommended to not gain more than 1 pound per week. Even that may be pushing it, especially for women since we don’t grow muscle as quickly as men. For most people, this means to eat around 200-500 extra calories above maintenance per day.

As for protein, shoot for at least 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So if you weight 150 lbs, you’d just multiply that by .8, which gives you 120. So shoot for 120 grams of protein per day. Easy peasy!

Best workouts to gain muscle on a bulk

Unfortunately just eating in a surplus isn’t quite enough to magically gain muscle. The last thing we want is to gain a bunch of extra fat with no muscle to go along with it!

The best way to make the most of your bulk is to get on a structured program.

Strong Curves

My favorite workout split is Strong Curves by Bret Contreras. It’s a great option for women especially interested in growing their lower body.

5/3/1 Split

Another great option is a Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1. It’s simple and focuses on compound movements so you can quickly gain strength and progress. You can plug in your numbers to generate a workout here.

Any program is okay as long as you’re progressing (lifting heavier weights as the weeks go on) and sticking to it!

When to stop bulking

Bulking is fun, but you also need to know when to stop! At some point your muscle growth will stall and your fat gain will start outpacing the muscle growth. There’s no hard number here to know when that will happen, so you just have to pay attention to your body and how you feel.

For the majority of people, they stop bulking when they feel uncomfortable in their body. None of your clothes fit anymore and you feel bloated and fluffy all the time. Maybe your lifts are getting stronger, but you’re finding it much harder to do bodyweight exercises like pull-ups or push-ups. This might be your cue that it’s time to end the bulk.

Once you’re ready to end your bulk, make sure you don’t slash your calories right away! Start by lowering them back down to maintenance for a couple weeks and let your body get used to that. From there you can then start to lower your calories (SLOWLY) into a deficit so that you start losing fat. This process is called reverse dietingĀ and is crucial to healthy fat loss and muscle preservation.

Recap

Just to recap:

1. Make sure you’re not already overweight when you start
2. Eat in a 200-500 calorie surplus
3. Get on a structured lifting program
4. Pay attention to your progress and know when to stop

Enjoy your bulk!

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