How To Bulk Up Properly | 4 Bulking Tips To Improve Athletic Performance

Over the years, we here at Garage Strength have been asked ad nauseum, “How can I bulk properly? How can I have a healthy bulk?” We are very well versed at how to bulk. Garage Strength has a lot of husky athletes at the gym that are throwers, linemen and just people trying to be big and strong. 

We can think of athletes who are trying to bulk as football linebackers trying to put on weight to put their hand down on the line of scrimmage, or olympic weightlifters or wrestlers trying to move up a weight class for competition. Or maybe, we are dealing with an athlete who claims to be a hard gainer and can never bulk; they’re just a string bean nicknamed smalls.


Like we said, we know how to bulk. We know how to bulk properly. And, most importantly, we know how to execute a bulk to improve athletic performance!

Bulking Comes With Chunk

We have to comprehend that when an athlete is bulking they’re going to gain a little bit of chunk. The athlete will be gaining a little bit of fat mass. This is natural and nearly unavoidable with a bulk. We also have to understand calories in and calories out (CICO), as well as total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).


TDEE encompasses the basal metabolic rate, thermic effect of food, non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) and exercise activity--this is our calories out. Think of this as all the ways in which the calories are being used. On the other end is all the calories that will be consumed through food, drinks and other manners of caloric consumption--this is our calories in. Calories in and calories out will be operating on a scale, one similar to what that blind Lady Justice holds thinking she is being fair and balanced. Not in a bulk.

Let’s think about mass and energy. The calories coming in are the mass and the calories going out are the energy expenditure. The key, and we know this sounds simple, but it is science, that during a bulk, the athlete has to make sure they are consuming more calories than they are burning.


This is an important concept, especially when talking about hard gainers saying, “I’m in a caloric surplus!” First off, they are full of crap. If they were in a caloric surplus they’d be gaining weight. Definitely not in a caloric surplus there, hard-gainer dude. However, if the surplus is small, the body, which its typical BMR takes about 60% of daily caloric expenditure, will adapt and burn that small surplus. Which means that in a bulk the athlete needs to be in a 200-400+ caloric surplus.


There is no lying, if the athlete is in an adequate caloric surplus, they will gain weight.


Now that is out of the way, let’s look into a few nutrition tips for a healthy bulk.

4. Eat Rep By Rep | Track Intake

What does eating rep by rep and tracking intake mean? It means that the bulking athlete needs to track their intake, tracking every little rep to make sure they are doing it properly. Start by tracking macronutrients, know where the food is coming from and know how many calories are being eaten in a day. The athlete has to know how many calories they are eating to ensure that the caloric intake is in excess of the amount of calories being burned in the day.


The athlete needs to understand that they need to be consuming 200-400+ calories more than they are burning. How can they ingest those extra calories? They can ingest those extra calories by thinking of each extra bite of food as a rep by rep process of gaining more muscle mass, to getting bigger and executing that healthy bulk.

3. Increase Weight Room Volume 

When we start to eat more our body adapts to that. Next thing you know, the athlete eating extra calories has more energy in the weight room. This means that the training volume in the weight room can be increased. Why? Because exercise activity typically only takes up 10% of daily energy usage. What ends up happening is the athlete can use more energy in the weight room. This is also why the caloric surplus during a bulk needs to be in that 200-400 calorie range, because it is easy with the extra volume in the weightroom to just negate a small surplus, impeding on the bulk. 

As an aside, this doesn’t mean just shoving food down your throat. Track your intake! Stop being fat.

2. 90% Intake From Whole Foods

Bulking with junk food makes it harder to lose the weight later on in life. Getting addicted to junk food isn’t good. The reason junk food makes it easy to bulk is because they taste delicious and in no way satiate a person’s appetite. However, by approaching bulking by a step-by-step process in which the athlete goes slowly from a 200 to a 300 to a 400 caloric surplus using whole foods makes it a lot healthier, allowing better recovery after training, getting high protein intake and proper fats and carbs to develop lean muscle mass that is wanted in a healthy bulk.


Just make sure to not just shove food down the gourd. Constantly scarfing down food doesn’t allow time for digestion. Not good. This means to not be just eating food constantly. Have meals planned throughout the day--specify feeding points. Have a big breakfast, wait a few hours, have a snack, wait an hour, have a big lunch and break it up properly so the digestive system can do the work it needs to do.


And yes, 90% of the intake needs to come from whole foods, but that other 10% of calories can come from junk food.

1. Utilize Compound Movements

This one is for all the hard gainers out there. Not only are the hard gainers probably skimping on their caloric intake, but we bet if we look at their workout plans it is basically full of accessory movements: bicep curls, leg extensions and cable pull downs. A workout devoid of compound movements is a big no-no.


When doing a healthy bulk, the athlete needs to utilize all that extra energy they have for the weight room to hammer back squats (7-10 sets!), deadlifts, power snatches, power cleans and start doing extra compound movements typically not done. By using compound movements the body will start to pack on way more lean muscle mass and creating more pathways for recovery. Heck, do the bicep curls and other isolation exercises.


It is important to take advantage of the caloric surplus to add 50, 60, 70 pounds to a bench press! Add 80 pounds to a back squat! Now all of a sudden that healthy bulk through eating whole foods, monster PR’s are coming about with the big, compound movements. Compound movements help most with sports performance and gaining lean muscle mass.


Compound movements are a must for any athlete, lifter, or body-builder looking to bulk. DO COMPOUND MOVEMENTS!  

Recap

When bulking it is important to be in a substantial caloric surplus, something in the neighborhood of 200-400 calories. Make sure that 90% of those calories are coming from whole foods and to only limit junk food calories to 10% of consumption intake. As the extra calories are being eaten at planned meals throughout the day, make sure to track the caloric intake, approaching each extra bite the same way as approaching an extra weight in the weight room. With the extra calories comes extra energy. Use the extra energy to increase volume in the weight room. And while in the weightroom, it is imperative that compound movements like squats, presses, pulls, cleans and snatches are performed to create lean muscle mass as the pounds not only increase on the body, but increase on the lifts. 


DANE MILLER

Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.

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