During the bulking phase the focus lies in the gain of maximal muscle mass. Targeted training and the following 5 nutrition tips will lead to more body mass and strength.
1) Eat more
The prerequisite for increase in body mass is a calorie surplus. Therefore, more energy needs to be consumed than the body actually utilises. The extent of the increase in calorie intake for an effective gain in muscle mass and size is different for each individual. Most often the aim is “lean muscle gain”, i.e. the gain of preferably fat free body mass. To limit the gain of body fat, whilst optimally building muscle, a calorie surplus of approximately 300 calories per day can be sufficient for some athletes. Others on the other hand need up to approximately 1000 calories extra per day. Hence there is no universal recommendation that suits every athlete. The optimal calorie increase should individually follow the “trial & error” principal.
2) The right protein intake is key
Proteins deliver the necessary building material for the muscles. For the effective stimulation of new muscle protein, the protein source as well as the right quantity at the right time is crucial:
- Choose high quality protein sources such as dairy products, meat and fish.
- Pay attention to protein timing. A regular protein intake throughout the day ensures best results. Therefore, plan for the right amount of high quality protein for all three main meals as well as snacks and immediately after training.
- The right quantity is important. Approximately 20-25g of high quality protein (or 0.3g per kg bodyweight) per meal seem to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis (for plant based proteins a slightly higher amount is probably necessary). Scientists currently discuss, if following a whole-body workout and immediately before going to sleep a higher amount of approximately 40g of protein is more effective.
3) Avoid too much junk food
Convenience products, crisps, croissants, chocolate and other sugary treats should merely be consumed in moderation and instead wholesome and nutritious foods should be favoured. This also holds true during the bulking phase. For example, 100g of raisins with approximately 320 kcal have a similar energy/calorie content as 100g gummy bears (approximately 340kcal), however they additionally contain important micro nutrients such as B vitamins and minerals for body functions.
4) Consider a creatine supplementation
Creatine monohydrate is referred to by the International Society of Sports Nutrition as the most effective supplement to improve performance during high intensity (anaerobic) exercise and to increase fat free body mass. Therefore, a creatine supplementation can be sensible during the bulking phase, if correctly dosed and ingested.
5) Pay attention to an adequate fluid intake
The right fluid balance i.e. a good hydration status influences the protein metabolism and performance. A fluid or water deficit (dehydration) can negatively impact performance during strength training (1). A fluid deficit as little as 2.5% can already attenuate resistance exercise performance (2).
Therefore, sufficient fluid intake is essential. Factors such as climate, diet or level of physical activity influence fluid requirements. Unfortunately, there is no easy method to determine the exact individual fluid requirement. However, the colour of the urine can be an indicator of the fluid balance status: Pale yellow urine indicates a good fluid balance in the body. Somewhat darker urine (roughly the colour of apple juice or beer) is a typical indicator of an insufficient fluid intake or a fluid deficit. Certain foods such as beet root, multivitamin supplements or antibiotics can however influence the urine colour, whereby it no longer can be used as an indicator for fluid balance.
We wish you lots of success and always keep in mind: Every athlete is unique and hence there is no one-size-fits-all nutrition strategy for the bulking phase.
Author: Corinne Mäder Reinhard, Senior Sports Nutrition Manager Active Nutrition International. She holds an International Olympic Committee postgraduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition and is a certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
The exercises, training and/or nutritional information and recommendations presented in this article/video are to be followed at your own risk and do not substitute personal and/or individual advice. Medical advice should be obtained beforehand by anyone under 18 years of age, by individuals with health restrictions (especially orthopaedic or internal complaints/conditions), and by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. If problems are encountered when applying the training and nutritional methods, a doctor should always be consulted immediately. No liability is assumed by Active Nutrition International GmbH.
(1) Kraft, J.A., Green, J.M., Bishop, P.A., Richardson, M.T., Neggers, Y.H., & Leeper JD (2010). Impact of dehydration on a full body resistance exercise protocol. Eur J Appl Physiol, 109(2), 259-67.
(2) Judelson, D.A., Maresh, C.M., Farrell, M.J., & et al. (2007). Effect of hydration state on strength, power, and resistance exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 39(10), 1817-24.