5 Top Tips to Lean Bulk

What do we mean by a 'lean bulk'?

Well, personally, I'm not a fan of the term. The whole idea of a 'lean' bulk is a complete juxtaposition. If you are in a bulk, the goal is not to get leaner, or to stay as lean as you were in the depths of a diet. However, I can appreciate the premise from a marketing standpoint. Weight gain should be controlled to a degree during a bulk, and excessive fat gain will not do you any favours.


When a bulk goes too far

There are several issues that arise when we gain too much fat during a bulk.
First of all, it makes your next cut a lot more difficult. You will leave yourself with two options: a very long diet, or a very aggressive diet, which risks losing more muscle mass than you would like.
Carrying too much fat around can begin to impact fitness levels. Up until a certain point, gym performance will increase on a bulk. As a rule, heavier people can lift more weight. In addition, eating more calories and sacrificing less recovery to cardio will put you in a better position to train hard. However, when cardiovascular health starts suffering, you may find that your fitness becomes a limiting factor in your sets, not your strength. We need to find a sweet spot where we are strong, and can still perform more than 5 reps without being winded!
From a psychological standpoint, it can be difficult coming to terms with not having as many lines as you once did. We can combat this by gaining at a more gradual rate. Going on a food rampage straight out of a diet will leave you bloated, unhappy and demotivated!


How to 'lean' bulk

1) Control the rate of gain

If you gain 20lbs in a couple of weeks and are unhappy with how soft you look, you have essentially ruined the chance to spread that out across months and maintain a favourable body composition. You do not want to have to do damage control from the off. Aim for up to a couple of lbs of gain a week once the ball is rolling. If your starting point is very lean (such as post show) you can expect to gain a little more in the first couple of weeks while your body stabilises itself. This is completely ok and necessary for your hormones to re-balance themselves. Start your bulk in a fairly conservative calorie surplus and reassess the situation at the end of each week!

2) Keep some cardio in

We are not saying to be doing long, exhaustive HIIT sessions on a daily basis, but at least have a step goal and perhaps add in some slightly more intense cardio on rest days. Cardiovascular health matters! As we mentioned, this will help you when incorporating supersets, dropsets and higher rep work. In addition, your body will simply look tighter and less 'watery' as you gain weight.

3) Choose mostly high quality food sources

This will help from a digestive and immune standpoint and overall sense of wellbeing. 'Dirty bulking' is dated and counterproductive. Only start utilising less clean, calorie dense foods (granola, bagels, jam) when you are struggling to eat enough, and try to situate them around training if possible. Eat like an athlete to perform and look like one.

4) Be accountable

Have a coach, take progress photos, ask a friend that you can trust to be a second set of eyes for you, whatever it takes. You need to know when you push up weight/food, and when it is time to ease off.

5) Prioritise strength

If the number on the scale is going up, the numbers that you're lifting should be too. Keep a log book, or ask a coach to design you a programme. If you want to put those extra calories to use and stimulate the muscles to grow, you need to be getting stronger over time.



Increased calories and/or reduced expenditure are what will essentially affect the scale. However, supplements can support us along the way.



Protein Flapjacks

Peanut Butter

PhD Nutrition Advanced Mass Flapjacks

About the Author

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