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A guide to ‘clean’ bulking

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Bulking is only a phase and not a complete change in your lifestyle, typically lasting for four to six months. It serves the purpose of providing energy and the essential components needed to build muscle. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Many people go to the gym to improve their health and physique — and weightlifting is one of the best means to do so.اضافة اعلان

Cutting and bulking are two important terms essential to any weightlifting journey. Last week, we talked about the differences between both. This week, we are focusing on bulking, which aims to increase caloric intake to stimulate muscle growth.

Caution is key, as approaching bulking incorrectly can negatively affect your physique and, more importantly, your health.

What is bulking?
When trying to build muscle, being on a diet regimen is necessary to prepare your body for the stress it will endure. This is where bulking comes in: you progressively increase the number of calories consumed daily, exceeding your body’s requirements.

Bulking is only a phase and not a complete change in your lifestyle, typically lasting for four to six months. It serves the purpose of providing energy and the essential components needed to build muscle. With the intentional increase of your caloric intake, fat accumulation will naturally occur; cutting is then the next step as it helps in losing the fat and defining muscles.

Why is bulking important?
The goal of bulking for weightlifting is to increase muscle size. This is achieved by allowing the muscles to undergo a process known as hypertrophy, which occurs when individual muscle fibers increase in size.

Hypertrophy requires two important factors to be achieved: resistance training and diet.

Resistance training provides the muscle with a stimulus. During a workout, your skeletal muscles experience tears and small amounts of damage that the body begins to repair and replace afterwardes. The second factor is diet. The process of muscle growth is taxing on the body and thus requires a high food supply to keep up with the increased demand. Muscle gain requires both energy and nutrition. This energy comes in the form of calories.

A 2019 study found that, over four weeks, those who had a high-energy diet experienced a 1.6 percent increase in muscle mass, which was higher than those who only had moderate energy intake. The consensus of many similar studies is that a lower energy intake can stunt hypertrophy.

In conjunction with increased calories, bulking also requires plenty of protein to repair, replace, maintain, and grow muscle.

The risks of bulking
Bulking has long been controversial in the health and fitness world, often raising safety concerns. It is important to note that most of the risks are associated with a concept known as “dirty” bulking.

Dirty bulking involves no particular diet, and no foods are off limits; the goal is to eat as much as possible. This inevitably results in unwanted fat gain. Even with healthy bulking, an increase in caloric intake will ultimately lead to increased fat mass.

The aforementioned study found that those with a high energy diet experienced a 7.4 percent increase in fat mass, whereas those with a moderate energy diet only experienced a 0.8 percent increase.

An intense increase in carbohydrates and saturated fats can elevate cholesterol and blood sugar levels which may contribute to serious conditions such as high blood pressure, strokes, cancer, and diabetes. However, little to no evidence shows any long-term effects of proper bulking and cutting cycles, as most health issues are linked with obesity or being overweight.

What is ‘clean’ bulking?
“Clean” bulking is designed to overcome excessive fat gain. It is a healthy and sustainable method of creating a calorie surplus while minimizing fat gain.

In contrast to dirty bulking, clean bulking does not include certain foods, particularly heavily processed foods, processed carbs, and saturated fats. Clean bulking utilizes an individualized approach as caloric intake is increased by 10 to 20 percent, ranging from 200 to 500 additional calories.

Benefits and drawbacks of clean bulking
Since clean bulking is individualized, it allows you to be in a calorie surplus while minimizing the amount of fat mass gained. An estimated 350 to 500 calorie surplus promotes muscle growth while remaining well within the range of clean bulking.

By reducing the amount of potential fat gained, you, in turn, reduce the risk of developing some of the serious complications associated with dirty bulking. However, clean bulking is not as efficient as dirty bulking: the greater the intake of calories, the greater the muscle gain.

As a result, clean bulking may cause a delay in muscle gain and is not preferred for those who need to gain muscle quickly for a sport or competition. Since clean bulking acts as a sort of diet, it can be more restrictive and requires you to change your daily eating habits.

How to clean bulk
To start clean bulking, you must first figure out your maintenance calories. Maintenance calories are the number of calories needed to maintain your current or healthy weight. Fortunately, many online calculators are at your disposal to help determine this — only requiring your sex, age, height, weight, and activity level to do so.

When you multiply your maintenance calories by 1.1 to 1.2, you find the range of calories necessary for a 10 to 20 percent surplus.

An adequate protein intake is important to ensure the proper healing and growth of muscle tissue. You should have a daily protein intake of 1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Your target weight gain should be a 0.25 to 0.5 percent increase per week. If you cannot reach this target, you should slowly increase your weekly intake by 100 to 200 calories.

Along with a protein and calorie target, certain foods should be consumed, and others avoided. Focus your protein intake on lean proteins such as chicken and avoid fatty cuts of beef. Unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, avocado, and specific seeds should be prioritized over saturated fats such as margarine, butter, and certain oils.

Clean bulking involves the consumption of whole and high-quality sources of carbs rather than highly processed ones. This means eating more oats, rice, and pasta while avoiding packaged pastries, fast food, and processed meats.

Restrictive food options paired with delayed muscle gain can discourage many from clean bulking. But balance can be achieved by allowing only one day of dirty bulking within an entire week of clean bulking. And remember, consult a local trainer or nutritionist for any advice on setting up a proper regimen.


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