Clean Bulking Up Rules for the Natural Bodybuilder

Gain Weight and Muscle Mass While Minimizing Fat

A man holding dumbbells in a gym.
A man holding dumbbells in a gym. Mike Harrington/Getty Images

How can you bulk up? In simple terms that means eating more and training heavier in order to gain muscle weight. While most of us who practice bodybuilding are trying to lose fat as we gain muscle, there are some people who are interested in just bulking up.

There could be many reasons for this:

  1. A bodybuilder whose metabolism is so great that requires a plan just suited for exclusive muscle gain; the so-called hardgainer.
  1. A person who practices a sport, such as football, that may require a certain weight.
  2. A bodybuilder who simply wants to go up a weight class (if he or she competes) or who simply wants to go on an exclusive muscle gain phase (like most bodybuilders do during Winter).

The Right Way to Bulk Up

Like everything, there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. I see many people who in an attempt to gain weight just start eating everything in sight, and thus, either overtax their digestive systems, thus not being able to eat several times a day, and/or simply start gaining too much body fat, as the case is for those without a hardgainer metabolism.

In order to gain quality weight, the nutrients taken in have to be of a high-quality nature. While some hardgainers have such a fast metabolism that they could benefit from also adding cheat meals to their nutrition plan, the best way to gain weight is through a planned and controlled increase in macronutrient intake.

By ensuring that the quality of the nutrients is high (such as low glycemic index carbohydrates, low-fat proteins and high-quality fats) muscle weight gain is optimized and fat weight is minimized.

However, in order for a bulk up phase to be effective, it needs to be executed properly. Otherwise, you end up gaining way too much body fat, which at the end of the day, whether you just want to look good for the beach over the summer or participate at a bodybuilding competition, you will need to lose anyways.

In this bulk up/weight gain guide, I'll teach you the bulking up rules to gaining some solid muscle weight while minimizing fat gains.

When To Bulk Up

First of all, bulking up is not about eating everything in sight and trying to lift as heavy as possible hoping that all of the increased weight gain will come in the form of muscle. This old school strategy will only lead to excessive fat gain. The best time, in my opinion, to bulk up is after you have been dieting for a long period of time. At this time your body will act like a sponge and absorb all of the nutrients that you give it at peak efficiency in response to the fact that it has not been getting such an influx of nutrients for a while.

If you are above 10% body fat, in which case you cannot see your abs, then you need to concentrate on losing body fat up until the point (at the very least) where you can see the top two rows of abs (when you have a four pack). Your bulk up plan will work even better, however, if you get down to where you can easily see your full abdominal wall (which is around 6-7% body fat for most people) as when you increase calories in this state, your body will be more primed to gain most of the weight in the form of muscle mass in response to the low calorie period that came before it.

Bulking Up Basics

Having said that know that while most of the weight that you will gain will be in the form of muscle, some of it will be in the form of fat no matter how good your diet is. The reason for that is the fact that on a state of caloric surplus (when you feed your body more calories than what is burned) some of those calories are stored as body fat. However, by bulking up on good foods, by training hard and by starting from a low percentage of body fat, you will minimize the fat gain and maximize the muscle mass gain.

Bulking Up Diet Basics

Now that you know what to expect from a bulk up cycle, let’s cover how to design a bulk up diet:

Bulking Up Basic #1

Increase your protein intake to 1.5 grams of protein per pound bodyweight. Therefore, if you weigh 200lbs, you need to eat around 300 grams of protein per day.

I have noticed that if I eat more than 40 grams of protein in one sitting I feel lethargic and have issues digesting the food. Therefore, divide 300 by 40 and that will give you the number of meals that you need to eat per day. In this example, the 200-lb bodybuilder will need to eat, around 7-8 meals per day spaced out with a minimum of 90 minutes in between meal and a maximum of 3 hours. Protein sources should come from lean low-fat sources like chicken, turkey, 93% lean red meats, tuna, egg whites, shrimp, tilapia, mackerel, and salmon.

Bulking Up Basic #2

Increase your carbohydrate intake to between 1.5-2 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight. In order to gain muscle, a carbohydrate increase will be required to keep your energy levels high, and thus fuel your workouts, and in order to help shuttle the amino acids from your proteins into the muscle tissue (since carbohydrates increase insulin levels and insulin is necessary for the transport of the aminos into the muscle).

The key thing to ensure that muscle mass is maximized as opposed to fat gain when consuming carbohydrates is to ensure that your intake of them is mostly from low glycemic index ones (slow digesting/released carbs) like brown rice, oatmeal, pasta and sweet potatoes. Limit the higher glycemic complex carbs (like cream of rice) and simple carbs (like bananas) for after the workout when the body needs fast released carbs and proteins in order to quick start the recovery and rebuilding process and also to help refuel the energy stores (glycogen levels in the muscle and liver) that have been drained.

Also, ensure that you eat half of your carbohydrates split between the times that the body is most receptive to them, which is the morning time (first meal) and post workout time.

For example, our hypothetical 200-lb bodybuilder who is starting his bulk up plan at 300 grams of carbs per day (bodyweight x 1.5), will split 150 grams (half of the daily requirement) between the morning meal and the post workout meal (so that comes to 75 grams of carbs). The morning meal carbs will be complex low glycemic carbs while the post workout meal will be half simple and half complex). The remainder 150 grams will be split in the remainder meals. I always advise to refrain from eating complex carbs after 6:30pm (unless your post-workout meal comes after that time) as your insulin sensitivity (body's acceptance of the hormone insulin) goes down at night and therefore, one runs a higher risk of storing carbohydrate calories at night unless you train, in which case your insulin sensitivity is optimized.

Finally, make sure that you have around 15-20 grams of fibrous carbohydrates, such as green beans or broccoli, at lunchtime and 15-20 grams more at dinnertime as these will help to keep your digestive tract clean and ready to accept new nutrients, thus maximizing nutrient utilization.

Bulking Up Basic #3

Increase your intake of good fats. Some fats are necessary to ensure good hormonal production and thus muscle growth. Eliminate all fats and see your testosterone levels take a dive. The body needs fats like the Omega Essential Fatty Acids in order to ensure proper hormonal production and brain function.

These oils are essential because the body cannot manufacture them and they help with many things like enhanced recovery due to reduced inflammation, enhanced nutrient partitioning due to their ability to neutralize enzymes necessary for fat storage (so this means more calories go toward muscle production and less to fat) and even help with enhancing your mood!

In order to get your good fats keep the essential fats at 3 tablespoons per day for guys and 1.5 for women in the form of flax seed oil, fish oils or extra virgin canned olive oil. I split my fats between my two low carbohydrate meals, which are meal 7 and 8. The reason I like to do this is because they eliminate my cravings for sweets at night that come as a result of the reduced carbohydrate intake at this time. Also, if I eat the fats earlier in the day with my carbohydrates, they completely kill my appetite and make it hard for me to consume the amount of carbohydrates that I need to eat.

Sample Weight Gain/Bulking Up Diet Plan

Supplements When Bulking Up

Cover the basics of nutritive supplements with a multiple vitamin and mineral formula. Get essential fatty acids in your diet from fish oils, flaxseed oil or extra virgin olive oil. For convenience purposes, a good weight gainer or protein powder are a great way to add valuable calories and nutrients to your diet.Other popular supplements for bulking up are creatine and glutamine.

Bulk Up Training

Depending on your schedule and your level of experience training will take from 3 days a week to 6. Each workout session should be limited to no more than 60 minutes of intense weight training. More time in the gym and your testosterone levels will suffer. Click on the links below to access a suitable bulk up training routine that is in accordance to your training experience.

Bulk Up Routines

  • Beginner’s Bodybuilding Workout (3 Days a week) – Excellent for those people with no bodybuilding training experience.
  • Intermediate Bodybuilding Workout (3-4 Days a week as desired) – Excellent for those with 12 weeks of training experience.
  • Advanced Bodybuilding Workout Using Periodization (3-6 days a week) – This is for the trainee with at least 24 weeks of training experience who is really serious about getting huge muscles. The periodization, or manipulation of sets, rest and repetition parameters will ensure the fastest gains in muscle mass.
  • Advanced Bodybuilding Workout Using The 10 Sets of 10 Reps Training Method (3-6 days a week) – This is for the trainee with at least 24 weeks of training experience who is ready for another high volume phase and who needs to get past a plateau. The 10 sets of 10 reps bodybuilding training method has been used in bodybuilding circles for years in order to break through plateaus and gain new lean muscle mass. Many people have claimed to its invention, but regardless of who came up with it, it has been used with great success by awesome bodybuilders from the past such as Vince Gironda, as well as Dave Draper and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Today, many athletes on the know still use this method and even elite strength coaches, such as Charles Poliquin, are great advocates of it and use it on their Olympic athletes when they are in need of increasing their lean mass quickly. I’ve used this method myself without fail since early on my bodybuilding career. It never ceases to yield great results.
  • Advanced Bodybuilding Workout Using The 5 Sets of 5 Reps Training Method (3-6 days a week) – This is for the trainee with at least 24 weeks of training experience who is ready for another heavy weight phase and who needs to get past a plateau. This method has also been used in bodybuilding circles for years for the purposes of breaking through plateaus and accumulating new lean muscle mass. The inventor of this method, according to what I have read from various sources, was no other than former Mr. Universe Reg Park who was Arnold Schwarzenegger's bodybuilding idol and inspiration. Reg used this method quite successfully back in the fifties and sixties. This routine is best used after a high volume training phase, such as the one provided by the 10 sets of 10 reps method described above.
  • Advanced Bodybuilding Workout for the Busy Bodybuilder (3-6 days a week) – This is a non-periodized workout that makes the most out of the time that you have to train. You can incorporate periodization by changing the repetition ranges periodically as shown on the Advanced Bodybuilding Workout above. You can also change your exercise selections as well.
  • Hardgainers' Bodybuilding Training Routine - This bodybuilding training routine is designed with the hardgainer's unique metabolism in mind. It is based on a four day per week routine that combines both higher repetition and lower repetition work in order to stimulate muscle while maximizing recovery.
  • Highly Advanced Bodybuilding Workout for the Bodybuilding Competitor (5-6 days a week) – Non-Periodized program for more instinctive and highly advanced bodybuilders (8 years of constant training or more) who know how to do their own periodization of reps and sets based on how their bodies feel. This routine taxes the muscles from every angle, and to the maximum, in order to achieve the absolute best physique. This is a great way to train for very advanced bodybuilders who are significantly strong and who can generate such a high level of intensity in each workout that training less frequently will allow for better results and recovery. Again, this routine should only be used by those bodybuilders who have spent years training using higher frequency splits such as the ones offered above. This routine is good during bulking and cutting cycles alike as the bodybuilder should know at this stage how to adjust the reps and sets accordingly based on their own body's knowledge.

Cardio for Bulking Up

During the bulk up stage cardiovascular exercise should be limited to 2-4 sessions per week of 20-45 minutes at the most. For hardgainers, 20 minutes for twice a week is advised. Please take a look at the following articles for more information on cardiovascular exercise:

Rest and Recovery

Do not neglect the important aspect of rest and recovery. You need 7 - 9 hours of sleep each night in order for your body to run efficiently. Deprive your body of sleep and you'll have lousy fat loss. As a bonus, you also get muscle loss, which in turn lowers your metabolism. You also get deprived hormonal production, which makes it difficult (nearly impossible really) to build muscle and as an added feature you’ll have to deal with lower energy levels, something not conducive to great workouts.

Bulking Up Tips

You can continue to bulk up until a level of 10% body fat is exceeded. At that point, calories need to be reduced again to the neighborhood of bodyweight times 12 at a 40/40/20 ratio of carbs, proteins, and fats. This is roughly 1 gram per pound of protein, 1 gram of carbs per pound of bodyweight and 1.5 tablespoons of oils for men and ¾ Tablespoon of oil for women.

Once again, I cannot emphasize enough that when eating more calories than what the body burns on any given day, some of those calories will be deposited as body fat. However, if your training is right on the money, most of the calories will be used for energy and muscle production. Happy bulking!