How To Bulk Up The Right Way To Gain Muscle and Not Fat


I get approached by people almost daily asking for advice on how to “bulk up.” Many men apparently are having difficulty adding muscle mass and even weight overall. So after asking them the basic questions about their caloric intake, protein intake, workouts and cardio, I still was unable to pinpoint what they might be missing. So that is the reason for this article. After some research, this is what I have found and I hope it will help.

First, you must determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Here is the equation:

  • Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 X weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in years)
  • Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 X weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in years)

Next, calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) which is BMR x activity level.

Activity Factor Table

Type of ExerciseDescriptionTDEE/ Maintenance
SedentaryLittle or no exercise, desk jobTDEE = 1.2 x BMR
Lightly activeLight exercise, sports 1-3 days per weekTDEE = 1.375 x BMR
Moderately activeModerate exercise, sports 3-5 days per weekTDEE = 1.55 x BMR
Very activeHeavy exercise, sports 6-7 days per weekTDEE = 1.725 x BMR
Extremely activeVery heavy exercise, physical job, training 2 times per dayTDEE = 1.9 x BMR

TDEE is the number of calories needed to maintain your weight. To lose weight, one would subtract about 300-500 calories daily from their TDEE. To gain weight, one would add 300-500 calories daily to their TDEE.

All calories are not created equal. To add lean muscle mass without adding fat, one must add protein without increasing fat intake. To increase lean muscle mass, increase protein intake to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight and divide that number between the 6-8 meals eaten daily. These meals should be spaced out with a minimum of 90 minutes and a maximum of 3 hours in between each meal. Protein sources should come from lean, low-fat sources like chicken, turkey, 93% lean red meats, tuna, egg whites, shrimp, tilapia, mackerel, and salmon.

how-to-bulk-up-right-way-1Eating smaller meals more frequently will prevent you from over-consuming calories in one sitting; its simple portion control. More is not necessarily better since your body can only utilize so much at once. Excess calories in any one meal will always be converted into body fat. Eating small, frequent meals promotes more efficient muscle growth because it helps to regulate insulin levels. While the large output of insulin that follows a high blood sugar level is undesirable, insulin must be present in the bloodstream constantly so that amino acids and glucose can be transported into the muscle tissue. Insulin is a powerful anabolic hormone. One of insulin’s major roles is to shuttle the amino acids into the muscle cells where they can be used for recovery and muscle growth. Unlike carbohydrates, amino acids cannot be stored; they are only available for protein synthesis for about three hours after the ingestion of protein. By eating a moderately sized meal every three hours, you maintain a steady release of insulin so it can fulfill its growth producing role.

Eating small, frequent meals also promotes muscle growth because it helps to prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue associated with long periods without food. Your body does not possess the ability to store proteins and use them at a later time for muscle growth. Since amino acids remain in your bloodstream for only about three hours after a meal, it is crucial to eat a meal containing a complete protein every three hours. If you do not supply your body with sufficient protein at regular intervals, it will be forced to breakdown its own muscle tissue for its amino acid needs. In addition to the growth enhancing benefits of five or six meals daily, frequent eating will also keep your energy levels high, and it will keep your metabolic rate higher so you keep fat storage to a minimum while on your bulking phase. When carbohydrates are consumed alone, there is a greater rise in insulin than when they are consumed in combination with protein. When simple, refined carbohydrates are consumed, there is also a greater rise in insulin.

Increase your carbohydrate intake to between 1.5 to 2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. In order to gain muscle, a carbohydrate increase will be required to keep your energy levels high, and thus fuel your workouts, and in order to help shuttle the amino acids from your proteins into the muscle tissue (since carbohydrates increase insulin levels and insulin is necessary for the transport of the aminos into the muscle). The key thing to ensure that muscle mass is maximized as opposed to fat gain when consuming carbohydrates is to ensure that your intake of them is mostly from low glycemic index ones (slow digesting and released carbs) like brown rice, oatmeal, pasta and sweet potatoes. Limit the higher glycemic complex carbs (like cream of rice) and simple carbs (like bananas) for after the workout when the body needs fast released carbs and proteins in order to quick start the recovery and rebuilding process and also to help refuel the energy stores (glycogen levels in the muscle and liver) that have been drained. Also, ensure that you eat half of your carbohydrates split between the times that the body is most receptive to them, which is the morning time (first meal) and post-workout time. The morning meal carbs will be complex, low glycemic carbs while the post-workout meal will be half simple and half complex. Also, make sure that you have around 15-20 grams of fibrous carbohydrates, such as green beans or broccoli, at lunchtime and 15-20 grams more at dinner time as these will help to keep your digestive tract clean and ready to accept new nutrients.

how-to-bulk-up-right-way-2Another key to increase lean muscle mass and “bulking up,” is to Increase your intake of good fats. Some fats are necessary to ensure good hormonal production and thus muscle growth. Eliminate all fats and see your testosterone levels take a dive. The body needs fats like the omega essential fatty acids in order to ensure proper hormonal production and brain function. These oils are essential because the body cannot manufacture them and they help with many things like enhanced recovery due to reduced inflammation, enhanced nutrient partitioning due to their ability to neutralize enzymes necessary for fat storage, which means more calories go toward muscle production and less to fat.

Depending on your schedule and your level of experience, training will take from 3 to 6 days a week. Each workout session should be limited to no more than 60 minutes of intense weight training. More time in the gym and your testosterone levels will suffer. During the bulk up stage, cardiovascular exercise should be limited to 2-4 sessions per week of 20-45 minutes at the most.

Do not neglect the important aspect of rest and recovery. You need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night in order for your body to run efficiently. Deprive your body of sleep and you’ll have lousy fat loss. As a bonus, you also will experience muscle loss, which in turn lowers your metabolism. You also get deprived hormonal production, which makes it difficult to build muscle and as an added feature, you’ll have to deal with lower energy levels, making a quality workout much more difficult.

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About Author

Stephanie Harter

I am a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. I worked as an ICU RN for 10 years before going back to school to obtain a Masters in Nurse Anesthesia from which I graduated in 2010. I recently obtained my certification as a Certified Nutrition and Wellness consultant and Personal Trainer through the AFPA. I am also an NPC Figure Competitor. See my profile page for more information!

1 Comment

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    This is a really great guide. I think the protein consumption might a little high though. 1.5g/lb of body weight? I think 1g/lb of body weight is probably sufficient. Also, I would probably focus more on strictly meeting your macro goals each day rather than putting so much effort on the actual timing of the macros.

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