The concept of ‘bulking’ and ‘cutting’ is often misunderstood in regards to building a better physique. The traditional (and wrong) belief is that you spend x amount of months piling on weight. You lift super heavy. Eat as much as you can. Neglect cardio. Grow.
After I competed in 2013, I once again fell into this trap. After 17 weeks of super strict contest prep, I couldn’t wait to stuff my face with foods i’d restricted myself from having. I binged daily for 2 weeks straight. I was 20 lbs heavier, and guess what, it wasn’t muscle. It was all fat and water. If this sounds like you then, then bulk – you’re doing it wrong.
This was a ‘one off’ for me. Having competed earlier in 2013, I successfully kept fat gain to a minimum post show. Towards the end of the year (my 2nd season of competing) I went silly with my diet. This lead to a 23 week contest prep for the 2014 season. Something I will never put my self through again.
After spending months restricting yourself of calories, performing endless amounts of cardio, and finally getting shredded, why waste this hardwork by piling a ton of fat on in a few weeks?
I’ve been training for around 7-8 years, and have been competing in bodybuilding shows since 2013. I want to share some tips, based on my experiences, of how you can transition from a fat loss or maintenance phase, into a ‘bulk’.
When I use the term bulk, I simply mean adding muscle. During contest prep or ‘dieting’ my goal is to maintain muscle mass, while losing as much body fat as I can. If I’m able to grow into a show and gain muscle during this time, then that’s a huge bonus.
For the purposes of this article, when I use the term ‘bulk’ I simply mean training & eating to gain muscle.
After Your Show / End of Diet
Consider the night of your show, or the end of your ‘cut’ a night off from macro counting. For months I would be as precise as making sure the scales read 80grams of oats, not 79, not 81, but 80.
Come the end of your diet, treat yourself and see it as a chance to relieve some of the stress of dieting. Eat the food’s you’ve not been able to enjoy for the past few months. This means dessert, dairy, red meat. Anything you would normally eat, but haven’t done so, you can enjoy.
Eat until your content, don’t binge. If you overeat, for the sake of eating, the next day you will feel like crap (believe me). If you want to taste a ton of different foods, simply have a small portion of each. Have a small slice of cake, a single cookie, a bowl of cereal. Don’t eat the entire cake, a full pack of cookies, and a box full of cereal.
Sample the tastes, and eat in moderation.
This ‘free night’ will act as a stress reliever. Not having to worry about macro’s will be a welcome change to what you’re accustomed to.
It will also allow you to satisfy your cravings, rather than continuing to let them fester and build, which will inevitably lead to a binge.
The difference between contest prep and cutting.
As someone who has dieted in the past, to simply get lean for summer, as well as prepare for a bodybuilding show, believe me, there is a huge difference in approach. If you don’t have a date to be ready for, your cut won’t be as strict. Regardless of how determined you are, how much will power you have, or how ‘clean’ your diet is, the past few months will not have been as hard as getting ready for a certain date.
Now im not saying you need to train for a contest in order to train hard. If you’re simply cutting to lose weight, you won’t be as pressured as cutting to go on holiday, or get ready for a photo shoot.
As such, depending upon how you’ve been cutting, your cravings will be at different levels.
If you’ve busted your ass for the past few months getting ready for holiday, a shoot, or a show, then treat yourself to the ‘free night’. If you’ve been cutting, for the sake of cutting, and your cravings haven’t festered, then this ‘free night’ may not apply to you. Only you will know the severity of how bad you want to eat.
Use your discrescion and act accordingly.
The Next Day
So you’ve had your treat night. The pressure of contest prep has came and gone. You can finally look to start increasing your food intake.
The sooner you start to reverse diet the more your lower the risk of gaining fat. If you let your free night turn into a free 2 or 3 days, the damage you do in those days of not tracking your macros defeats the purpose of a reverse diet.
The goal is reverse dieting is to keep gaining body fat minimal, whilst upping the amount of calories you’re able to consume, rebuilding your metabolic capacity. If you gain 15-20 lbs and then start to reverse diet, that’s 15-20 lbs of fat you’ve gained in just a few days. Kind of defeats the purpose.
The first few weeks of reverse dieting, whilst not as tough as contest prep, are no walk in the park. You will still be in a caloric deficit, however after just a few weeks things will get easier, and your long term progress will be far greater.
Adjusting Your Calories
This is very subjective, and will differ greatly between individuals. However the following is a good starting point and should give you a ‘rough’ ball park figure to start. To demonstrate my point, i’ll use myself as an example.
Finishing my last contest prep, I was averaging around 350g carbs a day, 230g protein and around 35-40g fat.
My carb intake would differ daily, as I was carb cycling over 3 days, however the 350grams was my average daily intake.
I looked to add 25 grams of fat in the first week, which is 100 calories. My fat intake went up slightly, as I introduced red meat back into my diet. I don’t really ‘track fat’ as I don’t eat food’s for fat. My fat intake comes as a by product of the other foods I eat. My protein intake remained more or less the same in the first week (although it might have went up a few grams as a by product of increased carbs).
From here I would rely on the mirror, and to a lesser extent the scales. Week on week I would look at my weight gain, but more importantly, I would look at how I looked in the mirror.
If my weight was pretty much the same, and I hadn’t ‘smoothed out’, then I would increase by another 25 grams the next week.
I found that 25 grams was incremental enough for the purpose of reverse dieting. In the past I’ve added 50 grams, then had to reduce the following week. With 25 grams however, it was easier to assess, and not have to then lower the total intake.
If i reached a point where I had smoothed out, slightly, then I would keep my carb intake the same for the following week. If i looked worst, I would then lower it. If i looked no different, I’d up it.
How far you go with this will depend on you.
I’ve read online that some people are able to consume 600-700 grams of carbs using this method without gaining fat. For me, I usually end up around 475-500 grams of carbs before I find my settling point.
My Protein intake normally bumps up by around 30-40 grams total also.
During contest prep, my reliance on protein shakes drops. This is because at around the 4-6 weeks out mark, im constantly hungry. Eating a whole food meal fills me up much more than a protein shake would.
My use of whey protein pretty much stops all together (unless im training twice a day, then i may use a whey isolate or hydrolysed whey protein powder after my first workout).
I do however use micellar casein pretty much up until the last week of the show. I like this as its light to have before bed. It also satisfies my sweet tooth, as I mix it to a pudding like consistency, and eat it as a dessert. There are many brands that sell casein protein.
When you start to reverse diet, and are looking to increase your carbs by specific amounts, you may find that a carbohydrate supplement is the easiest way to do this. Something like dextrose, maltodextrin or even ground oats is a very simple way to add a precise amount of carbs to your diet.
As your total caloric intake rises after a few weeks, you may find that eating is more difficult. If you find yourself without an appetite for more food, then a shake is an easy way to add more carbs back into your diet.
For reverse dieting, I would refrain from using a weight gainer or meal replacement shake. These things usually contain anywhere between 800-1200 calories a serving. You may want to start bulking up again, but increasing your calories by this amount so quickly will not lead to muscle gain. You’ll just gain a ton of fat. I remember a few years ago, I used Mutant Mass immediately following a cut. I went through a 6.8kg bag I think it was in under 2 weeks. I gained 14 lbs, but like I’ve already mentioned, this wasn’t 14 lbs of muscle.
Once you’ve increased your calories enough to either maintain or gain lean muscle, then you may want to swap a meal for a weight gain shake if you struggle with your appetite.
I keep all other supplement intake such as amino Acids, creatine, vitamins and minerals the same whether im cutting or bulking. I’d recommend you keep your supplementation consistent also.
Over To You
Hopefully this gives you a good launch point to kick start your next lean mass gain or ‘bulking’ phase. It’s easy to get caught up in over eating, and brushing it off as ‘bulking’. However if you’re serious about your training, and physique, then I would recommend this approach.
Remember that the figures i’ve mentioned here are not set in stone. It should give you a good starting point for experimentation for yourself however.
I hope this helps!