‘Tis the season to be… bulking? Top 5 tips.

Summer is officially over and hoodies and jogging bottoms are back. For some of us, with holidays out of the way, this means more nights with our hand in a tub of Quality Street, and less curling a dumbbell. It’s no secret that we are in the best place to gain muscle tissue when eating in a surplus, but how can we keep the fat gains to a minimum and maintain a body composition that isn’t more snowman than Schwarzenegger over the winter period?

  • Track your rate of gaining. Estimates for natural muscle gain are much less than certain sources might have you believe. Of course, genetics, diet and quality of training all play a part, but estimates for an average male are:


Year of Proper Training  /  Potential Rate of Muscle Gain per Year

1                                             20-25 pounds (2 pounds per month)

2                                             10-12 pounds (1 pound per month)

3                                             5-6 pounds (0.5 pound per month)

4+                                           2-3 pounds (not worth calculating)


And we can assume about half of these values are correct for a female! The un-glamorous truth is that, for advanced lifters, gaining a stone in a month will certainly make you appear ‘bigger’… but don’t expect it to be muscle.

  • Assess your starting point. If you are coming off the back of a bodybuilding show, it’s likely that your body will need jumping straight back up to your new maintenance calories, and reverse dieting (the process of adding calories from fat and carbs) quickly to get back to a healthy body fat percentage, as well as to regulate hormones and mood. For someone who isn’t especially lean, smaller increments will be more appropriate.


  • Keep cardio minimal, but don’t forget about it entirely. Cardio is one of our greatest tools in a dieting period. If we have been able to get away with not doing any cardio through a bulk, as little as 3-4 sessions of 15+ minutes can kick start fat loss. If you are trying to bulk while doing an hour of cardio a day, you don’t have that tool in your kit and, inevitably, will become one of those horror story dieters who start on 2 hours of cardio a day! Keep active, whether that means hitting 10k steps a day or biking to work, for cardiovascular health, but if you can afford to cut back time spent in the gym on the stairmaster as the weeks go on, do so.


  • Cheat meals. A controversial topic year round. My recommendation is as follows; if you are eating in a surplus 7 days a week, there is no need to pretend that an off plan meal is a ‘refeed’. Eating the menu of the local takeaway will inevitably place your weekly calorie intake way above what you have planned. For this reason, enjoy meals with family, and don’t say no to social events, but there is no need for an all-out day/meal of binge eating to be scheduled into your week when you should already be eating enough to be satiated and not suffer unbearable cravings!


  • Stay accountable. A great way to do this is by taking progress pictures and setting goals. For example, say you want a thicker back. How do your rear poses compare to 3 months ago? How much has your strength increased in the deadlift, bent over row, etc? It’s easy to become discouraged as you see lines and definition disappearing, set new goals and be honest with yourself when it is time to move into a maintenance or cutting phase.

About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby
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