If you’re looking to bulk up and build a muscular physique, read on! As a personal trainer in London with over 15 years’ experience, I’ve advised many clients how to build themselves up healthily, where the weight gain is muscle and not fat. There are three essential components to bulking up: good nutrition, the right kind of exercise, and plenty of sleep. In this blog post I’ll focus mainly on nutrition.
APPROPRIATE CALORIE INTAKE
If you’re skinny and want to bulk up fast, avoid the temptation to eat everything in sight. Be selective about the calories you consume. Avoid all junk or processed food, and eat clean: in other words, just wholesome nutritious food. It’s better to bulk up slowly and ensure that you’re not gaining excessive body-fat, than gain weight fast and create health problems caused by being overweight.
HOW MANY CARB CALORIES SHOULD YOU EAT?
Avoid zero carb diets! You need to be training intensively at the gym if you want to build muscle, so your energy requirements will be higher than the typical sedentary guy. Ensure you eat plenty of wholesome carbs, such as oats, quinoa, bulgar wheat, and sweet potatoes. Avoid sugary carbs, bread, white rice, pizza bases, pasta. There’s no need to go zero carb. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, so don’t skimp on your carb consumption when you’re training.
Carbohydrates only turn to fat if you eat them in excess. When your glycogen stores are full, the excess converts to body fat. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose, and the storage bays are your liver and muscles. Very muscular guys can get away with consuming more carbs, as they have more glycogen stores in their muscles to soak up any excess glucose in their bloodstream.
If you don’t keep your glycogen stores replenished, when you work out your body will convert some of your body fat to usable energy (which is good) but also some of your muscle (which is the last thing you want to lose). An absence of carbs in your diet means that your body will cannibalize your muscles to fuel your workouts, and your muscle mass will become depleted, so avoid excessively low-carb diets like the plague.
Zero carb zealots see the hormone insulin as a bad thing. Insulin is your body’s main nutrient transport hormone. Every time you eat carbs, your insulin levels rise, but this is perfectly natural. Insulin is an anabolic hormone (anabolic means muscle-building) and helps drive not only glucose into your body cells for energy, but also amino acids into your muscles for growth and repair. Only excessive insulin production is a problem, which occurs when you eat junk carbs, or indeed any carbs in excess.
To bulk up healthily, you should eat around 2 grams of carbs per lb of bodyweight. Aim to get around 35% of your daily calories from carbohydrates.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN SHOULD YOU EAT?
The rule of thumb is 30g per meal, but this is too crude a rule because your protein requirement depends on your current weight, and the intensity of your workouts. If you want to bulk up, a good daily measure is to eat a gram of protein per lb of bodyweight.
For example, if you’re an 180 lb male, consume 180 lbs of protein per day, broken down into six servings of 30g each.
Great sources of protein are fish, red meat, chicken, turkey, eggs, quinoa. Choose complete proteins like these, which contain all the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) in the right balance and quantity to build muscle most effectively.
Aim to get around 40% of your daily calories from protein.
HOW MUCH FAT SHOULD YOU EAT TO BULK UP?
The myth that all dietary fat is bad has been well and truly busted at last, but it’s worth remembering that too much fat in your diet will still make you fat. The other consideration is what kind of fat should you eat and what kind should you avoid?
You need to consume essential fats (monounsaturated fats, and the polyunsaturated fats omega 3 and 6) and also some saturated fat in moderation. Fats help maintain your anabolic hormones such as testosterone, so avoid low-fat diets or your testosterone levels will suffer.
Good fats to consume are avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, eggs. Saturated fats in red meat are fine in moderation (2-3 servings a week) but excessive saturated fats can deplete your immune system and increase risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Fats to avoid at all costs are trans-fats (also known as hydrogenated fats) which are used by the food industry to manufacture junk foods and biscuits and cakes and confectionery and some read-meals. Avoid all these junk foods like the plague.
Aim to get around 25% of your daily calories from fats.
HOW MANY MEALS A DAY?
The optimum number of meals/snacks per day is 6, but don’t let any single meal exceed 800 calories. Your body needs a regular supply of protein, so eat every 2-3 hours. Make your biggest meal the one straight after your workout. Make your smallest meal your last meal/snack of the day. Don’t skip breakfast!
GET PLENTY OF GOOD QUALITY SLEEP
Many people who try to build muscle neglect this key component. Your muscles grow and repair mainly during sleep, so make sure you don’t burn the candle at both ends and skimp on sleep. Lack of sleep elevates your stress hormones, which impair muscle growth. Plenty of sleep boosts your muscle-growth hormones: human growth hormone, and testosterone.
When one of my personal training clients (in Holland Park, London W8) first came to me, he said he trained hard, but tried to get by on very little sleep. I explained that lack of sleep was thwarting his muscle-growth efforts. When he started following my advice to get more sleep, he started to gain more muscle. Don’t neglect your sleep if you want to bulk up healthily.
If you want one-to-one online nutrition coaching, I provide 2 weeks’ coaching for just £50.00.