Mass is gained by consuming calories in excess so that your body is in more of an anabolic state. This just means that your body has the energy needed to create more tissue. When working out and breaking down muscle, that excess will be there to help you repair and rebuild. Now, at the same time, depending on your excess, you will store a little bit of fat. This is just the physiology of consuming more calories. You can, however, influence the amounts of fat if you’re careful.
If you do decide to dial things in, you can perform what is referred to as a lean bulk. Lean bulking involves building muscle mass in a way that mitigates the amount of body fat stored. Now, this isn’t an effortless process. It does require some attention to detail so that you primarily build muscle.
In this post, you’re going be learning how you can lean bulk and what it’s going to take to accomplish this. We’ll be diving into the ways in which it can be done, how to find the proper macros for your lean bulk, the lengths at which you should do it, and much more. So, let’s dive into it and breakdown the phenomena known as lean bulking!
How to Successfully Build Muscle without Gaining Much Fat
Part of changing your physique is going to involve building some muscle. While most people dive into losing weight, it’s important that you understand the other side of the coin. When looking at body composition, you lose weight to show off what is underneath – muscle. If the muscle underneath isn’t as developed, then there won’t be as much to show.
So, you’ll need to investigate gaining some mass at some point (if this is your goal). To lose weight, you must consume a caloric deficit. This just means that you’re burning more calories than you consume. To gain weight, you just do the opposite and consume a caloric surplus. Yes, this will lead to weight gain, but that weight is an increase in tissue not necessarily body fat. How you go about this is what will determine the amount that you actually store as fat.
One of the most important things to home in on will be your caloric intake. Yes, you need a surplus, but how much of a surplus? This is where many can miss the ball and go overboard with the intake. There’s a massive difference in a 500-calorie surplus, versus a 2,000-calorie surplus. Both will “bulk” you up, but one will lead to more body fat. Taking things slow and being precise will yield the best results when looking to successfully perform a lean bulk. Really all you’re doing here is trickling in just enough extra calories to allow your body to build that muscle mass. The key is that the surplus is being USED! You store excessive fat when you have extra calories that aren’t being USED.
So, not only do you need to make sure you consume the proper number of calories for this, but you also need to dial in on WHAT you’re eating. If someone tries out the dirty bulk, they’ll consume anything and everything in the name of gaining weight. A lean bulk is going to be much more specific than this. You’re going to be putting a ton of focus on your macronutrient breakdown. Macronutrients are the BIG nutrients that you consume such as PROTEIN, CARBS. And FATS. Each of these macronutrients contain a specific number of calories and a specific role in your metabolism. See below what each of them contain!
- Proteins = 4 calories/gram and help to build muscle mass
- Carbohydrates = 4 calories/gram and provide you with a quick source of energy
- Fats = 9 calories/gram and are a slow/stored form of energy
While these nutrients do possess some other functions in the body, these are the main ones you need to consider when it comes to body composition. Each of these nutrients in total provide you with a total caloric intake, but the ratios in which you consume them can create different effects on the body. If you barely consume protein and only eat carbs and fats, you may find that you don’t build as much muscle mass. If you only consume protein, you may find that you’re lower on energy and have trouble hitting a caloric goal. The point is that you need a specific amount of each based on your individual needs, goals, and body.
Of the previously mentioned macronutrients, which do you think is the most important for building lean mass without much body fat? When it comes to a lean bulk, protein is going to be one of your priorities. Protein is THE muscle building macronutrient and will help you to stack on mass from your workouts. However, how much are you going to need? While we’ll breakdown how to find your individual macronutrients later, a protein intake of 1g-1.2g of protein per pound of body weight is plenty to build muscle. This means that if you weigh 150lbs you would need roughly 150g of protein a day to build muscle mass. There will often be people who recommend an even higher intake of up to 2g per pound of body weight, but this just isn’t necessary. It won’t provide you any more muscle mass than the previous numbers and may make your intake goals unrealistic. Protein is extremely satiating, just try eating a pound of chicken breast and see how hungry you are after. Low hunger can be a problem for any kind of bulking. Having an adequate intake of protein is paramount because it’s going to help you do what you’re attempting to accomplish. If you’re too low on your intake, you may not build as much muscle as you had hoped.
In addition, you need to be training hard! With that surplus coming in, there needs to be broken down muscle to rebuild. If there isn’t, then you’re just consuming excess calories to be stored as fat. When you’re cutting weight, you may notice that you don’t feel as strong, and your sessions may be a little lackluster. However, when you’re consuming excess calories for a lean bulk, you’re going to have much more energy and fuel for an intense workout. Taking advantage of this is going to allow for maximum recovery, which puts those extra calories to use in the right ways.
When you’re looking to bulk without the excess fat, it comes down to training hard and dialing in your nutrition. You’ll want to keep up with your intake to ensure that you’re consuming just the right amounts of calories, proteins, fats, and carbs. This will help to provide your body with needed fuel for growth, without much excess. In addition, you need to work out hard so that you’re putting those calories to use. If you bulk and sit around, not much is going to change but your body fat percentage.
How to Calculate Your Macros for a Lean Bulk
Macros essentially refer to your total caloric intake as well as your protein, carb, and fat intake. This all adds up to equal your daily consumption. To bulk, like stated earlier, you need to be in a surplus of these calories first. So, how do you find the number of calories that YOU need as an individual.
You just need to find out your Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE and add in some calories from there. Your TDEE is just the total calories that you expend daily. There are tons of equations that you can use, but here’s a super simple calculator that’ll tell you where to start. Earlier in the post, we discussed how much of a surplus is needed for a lean bulk, and it can be a fine line. A good rule of thumb is to go about 300-500 calories over your maintenance calorie goal. This’ll be just enough to elicit growth without much fat storage, and if it doesn’t work over the course of about two weeks just add in more slowly. For the sake of an example, let’s say that you weigh 150lbs and end up needing 3,000 calories to run a lean bulk. We’ll stick with this as a way of showing you how it’s done in this section.
Now, you have your calories, so what are those calories going to be composed of? We already know that protein is of utmost importance for bulking, so you’ll want to start there. Using the recommendations of about 1g-1.2g of protein per pound of body weight, figure out a total protein intake target. Once you have this, we need to know how many of your calories this’ll be. Protein contains 4 calories per gram, so whatever your protein goal is, multiply it by 4. Since you weigh 150lbs in the example it’ll be 150g of protein, from here, multiply it by 4 and it will be a grand total of 600 calories towards your daily intake. Now we have 2,400 calories left to work with.
Next up, you need to find out your fat or lipid macros. Fats are the densest source of energy that you can consume at 9 calories per gram. While it isn’t preferred by the body to use for activity, it does play roles in your metabolism and hormone health. Therefore, you need them! Ideally, you would want to consume about 0.15-0.25 of your total calorie intake on fats. Which end of the range you choose is going to be based on how much fat you like to consume. We’re going to go with 0.25 of your total intake (multiply 3,000 by .25) which would come out to 750 calories. We can divide this by 9 (the total number of calories in fat) to get 83 grams of fat. At this point, you have 150g of protein, 83 grams of fat, and 1,650 calories left over.
So, you’ve used 1,350 calories out of your total right? Next, we’ll be filling the remainder of your calories with carbohydrates. Carbs are going to be a sure-fire source of energy for you on your bulk, plus they’re a little easier to eat than just straight protein. This can help you hit those calories goals without feeling overly full. All you have to do to find your total carb intake is divide what’s left by 4 (the total calories in a gram of carbs). Take 1,650 and divide by 4 to get 412g of total carbohydrates in your diet. That may seem like a high number, but you’re going to need it for the intense training and recovery!
At the end our example here is going to have a macro total that looks like this:
Calories = 3,000
- Protein = 150g
- Carbs = 412g
- Fat = 83g
You can run this exact same set up to figure out your lean bulking macros as well!
How Long Should You Lean Bulk?
This right here is a golden question. How long should you run a lean bulk? Often with bulking, the idea is that you’re going to be putting on mass fast. This is a total misconception and often leads to fat gain in the end. Building muscle mass actually takes a good amount of time. 20lbs of weight gained in two months of bulking could mean that you put on 18lbs of fat or water weight with only 2lbs of muscle mass; and that would be doing good! On average it would take someone about a month to put on one pound of real muscle mass. So, what does this mean for the amount of time that should be given for a lean bulk?
First, find out what your goals are. Decide how much mass you’re actually trying to build, and from here you can forecast the amount of time it may take. If you’d like to gain about 5 pounds of muscle before cutting, then you would ideally shoot for 5 months of lean bulking. If you’d like to do this longer term and maybe focus on strength and mass, it could be done for as long as you feel comfortable. To minimize fat gained in the long run, obviously you would want to keep things to a minimum. The longer you run a bulk, the longer you do have a chance of storing some fat. At MINIMUM it would be ideal to lean bulk for 3-4 months for optimal results.
This too can vary depending on the person and the attention to detail that is put on your diet. If you’re already a lean person and you have really good discipline, you may be able to lean bulk for a longer time without much fat gain. Other individuals could have a harder time with body fat and may want to do a normal lean bulk followed by a cut to minimize fat gain.
Will You Gain Fat on a Lean Bulk?
Gaining mass and size are part of bulking, but what that mass is comprised of can vary based on many factors. Most of those factors are going to be the methods in which you perform the process. Even if things are kept very strict and you follow along perfectly, there is a chance that you will gain some body fat. It’s only natural that this happens to some extent as you are consuming an excess of calories, and that’s how the laws of human physiology work. The idea behind a lean bulk isn’t building mass without ANY body fat being stored, but more so that you’re building mass while MINIMIZING body fat being stored.
In the end, you would typically perform a cut or a weight loss phase after a bulk so that you can work on removing that excess body fat being stored. If you were to do a dirty bulk and gain a ton of extra body fat, this only increases the amount of work that you’ll need to remove it. After a lean bulk, the work needed to show off those gains won’t be as intensive.
The point is to build mass while minimizing fat gained, so that you have a much easier time in the future to show off your hard work!
Lean bulking is 100% achievable so long as you stick to some principles. You need to keep your diet dialed in during the entire process if you hope to keep things fairly lean. You won’t completely remove the chances of gaining body fat, but you will definitely minimize them greatly.
You also need to be training hard so that those calories are being used. Hard work, rest, and recovery are going to provide you the best results here.
Finding your macros can be simple and you now have a straightforward way to get set up. Once you have this done, you can follow along based on your goals for mass gain. This isn’t a speedy process, and it does take some time. However, if you focus and put in the work it’ll all pay off in the end!
See also: How to bulk up for a beginner