Lean bulking means that you eat extra calories for muscle growth, but not more than necessary, so that your gain in fat mass is limited as much as possible. Dutch coach, author, speaker and researcher Menno Henselmans tells you all about it in this podcast (see below), of which we give you a summary.
HOW MANY CALORIES SHOULD YOU EAT EXTRA AND HOW MUCH WILL YOU GAIN? (01:02)
Based on research among natural strength athletes, you can say that a mild energy surplus is sufficient: for beginners around 10 percent of the maintenance level, for intermediates around 5 percent and for advanced a few percent. If you sit higher, the extra calories quickly result in fat gain. So the window between no muscle growth (eating on maintenance) and gaining fat is very narrow. Therefore, when bulking, you will need to be very consistent with your food intake and measurement.
Keep in mind that your metabolism increases when you eat more (metabolic adaptation). This means that your maintenance level will be higher than the original level. So you will probably have to eat more than that 5 percent. Exactly how much varies greatly from person to person. Only the scale can make you wiser in this matter. If your weight does not increase, then your calorie intake is apparently too low.
For the advanced, any measure of weight gain that does not lead to fat gain is good. If you’re a beginner, you can expect a weekly weight gain of 1 percent of your body weight, dropping to 0.5 percent over time.
WHAT ARE YOUR RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE MACRONUTRIENTS (PROTEINS, CARBOHYDRATES, FATS)? (10:41)
The following applies to proteins: 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight is sufficient in both the cut and the bulk. In the bulk you may go a bit higher because your calorie intake is a lot higher.
I go relatively high in fats: around 40 percent. In my opinion, carbohydrates are not as important a factor for strength athletes as is often claimed. I just completed a systematic review confirming that. If you eat around 200-300 grams of carbohydrates per day, you are usually fine.
Remember that you eat so much in a bulk that the distribution of macronutrients is not so important: you get more than enough from inside. So as long as you meet the protein quota, you’ll normally be fine, as long as you eat somewhat healthy.
WHAT ABOUT MEAL TIMING? (18:50)
For optimal progression, take three to six meals a day, spread somewhat evenly throughout the day and with an even distribution of protein. I also recommend eating the largest meals between your workout and bedtime. That way you place the majority of your macronutrients in the anabolic window. For example, it’s not ideal to have your biggest meal in the morning, while you only train in the evening. In the cut, I recommend eating carbohydrates just before training.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT CALORIE/CARB CYCLING? (27:15)
Carb cycling is completely pointless. There is also no scientific basis for it. Calorie cycling can be useful, especially for advanced strength athletes with a relatively low training frequency. You eat fewer calories on rest days.
HOW LONG SHOULD A BULK LAST? (32:53)
At least longer than two weeks. Because you need time to find the sweet spot of your energy surplus first, usually a week or two. Once you’ve found it, you’ll experience what some call bulking momentum. Through metabolic adaptation you will have to increase that surplus regularly.
I like relatively long bulking phases, from a few weeks to two months. In addition, I regularly do minicuts to maintain my leanness. After all, some fat gain during the bulk is inevitable. Minicuts avoid lengthy cut phases.
The fact that some experience bulking steeless over time (as opposed to momentum) is probably because they are no longer in an energy surplus. In addition, building muscle becomes more difficult the closer you get to your natural potential. Once you’ve built one kilogram of muscle mass, the next kilogram will be harder to build.
IS THERE AN OPTIMAL BODY FAT PERCENTAGE FOR BULKING (P RATIO)? (37:42)
It is theoretically plausible that higher fat percentages have an unfavorable influence on bulking. A lot of body fat means, among other things, a drop in testosterone levels and a reduced recovery capacity. The latter means a reduced volume tolerance in your training. Parallel to this, higher fat percentages are less good for health.
I therefore advise against letting the fat percentage increase too much. That is not necessary at all. Powerlifters sometimes increase their fat percentage to get into a higher weight class. But as a bodybuilder there is no reason to have fat percentages where abs are no longer visible. I think the visibility of the abs is a good criterion for bodybuilders for the correct range of fat percentage.
In general, you can say that healthy fat percentages are also the fat percentages at which you build the most muscle. For men this comes down to 7 to 15 percent, for women you can add 10 to that.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE YOUR BODY COMPOSITION? (44:30)
You have to weigh yourself first. Do this in the morning on an empty stomach. In addition, a skinfold measurement is useful to measure the fat percentage. A major condition for such a measurement is consistency and that is where things often go wrong. You’ll have to experiment with it to get that right.