It’s not as simple as, “eat more”, although it is kind of true. What you eat also matters.
Bulking is your solution. If you want the list of best bulking foods, skip right ahead. However, if you want to know what bulking actually is and how to do it properly, keep on reading.
What Is Bulking Actually?
A bulk is a period of time in which you eat at a calorie surplus to gain weight and add more size. This size increase could be due to water, muscle, fat or bone density.
The reason you need a caloric surplus is because, to gain weight, energy intake must exceed energy expenditure. That Energy is calories.
This is called ‘Calories In Calories Out’ (CICO) within the gym/dieting communities and you’ll likely find a gym bro also referring to this term. CICO however, fails to account for the composition of the weight gained or lost, which could be water, muscle, fat or bone density. I’ll explain how to control what you gain later on.
Calculating Caloric Intake of a Bulk
It is universally agreed that eating a surplus of 200-500 calories is sufficient for bulking. To be consistent with your surplus you’ll need to calculate the calories you’re currently getting in daily.
This will require complete honesty with yourself. Here is a screenshot of my diet plan from 2 years ago (I eat much more now).
P.S. Proteins and carbs are 4 calories per gram while fats are 9 calories per gram.
You may be thinking that I’m not eating enough for a bulk but remember the definition. You’re simply eating more than you usually do. If that’s not enough proof for you, here’s my before and after.
Clean vs Dirty Bulk
A clean bulk is, in short, a High protein diet. The goal is to maximize muscle growth and minimize fat gain.
A dirty bulk is all about eating anything and everything. Junk food, soft drinks, candy, etc.
Dirty bulking means eating significantly more carbs and fats. Remember that each gram of fat is more than double in calories compared to each gram of protein and carbs. You can expect to gain a significant amount of fat mass while dirty bulking.
This is supported by this detailed article, stating that “it is evident that overfeeding on carbohydrate and/or fat results in body composition alterations that are different from overfeeding on protein”.1
It may be in your best interest to clean bulk. It may take longer than dirty bulking but the result will be a substantial increase in muscle mass while with a dirty bulk, a lot of that weight gain would be fat mass.
How To Clean Bulk
According to the recommendations of the Institutes Of Medicine (IOM), the acceptable macronutrient ranges for carbs, proteins and fats are as follows.
- 45%-65% carbohydrate
- 10%-35% protein
- 20%-35% fat
With a clean bulk, you want to go to the upper end of the protein intake, the lower end of fat intake and carbs are up to personal preference. Be aware that excess carbs eventually get converted into fat.
This is just to help you gain an idea of what your diet should look like. You don’t have to get the numbers 100% accurate.
Just remember, more protein, less fat, and enough carbs.
Now… what to eat.
Medical Disclaimer: Always make sure to consult a fitness professional to understand how to adjust diet plans to your training regimen safely. This information is not to be taken as medical advice
Best Bulking Foods
I’ve categorized the best bulking foods by macronutrients. We’ve got Protein up first.
[Disclaimer: Macronutrient information is to be taken as an estimation and is not exact. You may find that your local groceries store has different products of the same food with different macronutrient contents. Take the information below as rough estimations for yourself]
A great source of protein and healthy fats. Very easy to consume. You’ll likely be eating 2-4 with carb-rich food such as bread or rice.
Macros: Protein – 6g Carb – 0g Fat – 5g
Calories: 78 kcal
90% Lean Beef
While being a great source of protein and healthy fats, Lean beef also contains all 9 amino acids which are essential for muscle growth.
Macros: 3 oz Protein – 22g Carb – 0g Fat- 10g
Calories: 184 kcal
In almost every bodybuilder’s diet, you’ll find chicken. For good reason too. It’s protein that tastes great with perfect seasoning. Most bodybuilders go for chicken breast due to the lower fat content when compared to the thighs (I still get the thighs).
Macros: 3 oz Protein – 23g Carb – 0g Fat – 12g
Calories: 203 kcal
Products specifically made with higher protein content are on the rise. You are very likely to find something called “protein yogurt” at your local grocery store. Keep in mind that these products are low in fat but high in sugar.
Macros: Varies by brand
Calories: Varies by brand
Salmon is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are supported by several studies to improve muscle recovery, i.e. When protein synthesis occurs.
Macros: 3 oz Protein- 17g Carb – 0g Fats – 11g
Calories: 177 kcal
Simple Carbs and Complex Carbs
Both simple and complex carbohydrates can contribute to body mass, but they may affect body composition in different ways given their impacts on metabolism.
Simple carbohydrates are rapidly digested, leading to quick spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. While this can provide immediate energy, as I’ve said previously, excess glucose (carbs) not used would be stored as body fat.
Also, the rapid absorption of simple carbohydrates can lead to a quick return of hunger, possibly leading to overconsumption and potential weight gain.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are digested more slowly, leading to a gradual and steady rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. This can help maintain longer satiety (feeling of being satisfied), potentially controlling total caloric intake.
Simple carbohydrates are easily consumed. You’re not left satisfied or satiated. Rather, you would want to consume more. Think of candy or soft drinks. Overconsumption is possible therefore increasing fat mass becomes easier unless replaced with the alternative of complex carbs.
After intense workouts, simple carbohydrates can aid in quickly restoring glycogen levels, thus supporting recovery. It may be better to have a balance of both simple and complex carbs after a workout to support recovery and be satiated.
Oats are a great source of complex carbs and also provide a decent amount of protein. It is also low in fat.
Macros: 1 Cup Protein – 11g Carb – 55g Fat – 5g
Calories: 307 kcal
Brown rice is considered to be more nutritious than its white rice counterpart. Also a great source of complex carbs and is similar to the macros ratio of oats.
Macros: 100g Protein- 7g Carbs – 77g Fats – 3g
Calories: 366 kcal
A great addition to any protein-rich meal. Sweet potatoes are almost purely for carbs. Mostly consisting of complex carbs but also containing a decent amount of simple sugars.
Macros: 1 sweet potato (5” long) Protein – 2g Carb – 26g Fat- 0g
Calories: 112 kcal
Another great addition to a protein-rich meal. Brown Bread is primarily complex carbs however you may be able to find brands with up to 5-6 grams of protein per slice.
Macros: 1 Slice Protein – 3g Carb – 13g Fat – 1g
Calories: 75 kcal
High carb, decent protein and low fat. Add in some chicken or any other meat to make a full high protein and carb meal. Pasta is also rich in complex carbohydrates.
Macros: 1 cup of Spaghetti Protein – 12g Carb – 68g Fat – 1g
Calories: 338 kcal
This section is for those individuals that do not get enough healthy fats. Healthy fats refer to unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Remember that eating too much is not necessarily good for a clean bulk but in moderation, it is a dense source of energy.
Eggs make another appearance because of the healthy fats found in the egg yolk. All the more reason to add them to your diet.
Macros: Protein – 6g Carb – 0g Fat – 5g
Calories: 78 kcal
Nuts are very high in fat, being more than double that of protein and carbohydrates. They’re also very easy to consume so you may need to watch how much you eat.
Macros: 1 Cup Protein – 27g Carb – 28g Fat – 72g
Calories: 813 kcal
Just 1 tablespoon is over 100 calories. That should tell you how easy it is to gain calories with olive oil. But of course, all those calories come from fats. Healthy fats at least.
Macros: 1 Tablespoon Fat – 14g
Calories: 119 kcal
Time For Action
Your bulking diet should be simple, easy to do and definitely not a chore. Create a balance between what’s necessary and what you want. Say you really like junk food. Replace those chicken wings with home-cooked chicken thighs. Replace those deep-fried fries with air-fried fries.
Find a healthier alternative to what you like.
If you find that the amount of cooking or preparing doesn’t work for you, consider buying protein supplements. Mass gainers are perfect for bulking.
The point is, the plan you make must be something you can maintain for the duration of your bulk. Consistency is key.
Any professional bodybuilding advice is to some degree reflected in scientific studies and experiments. From all these studies and experiments, results, positive or negative, are from consistent efforts.
For example, the article about intaking 1g of protein per pound of body weight required the people involved to be consistent. If not, we wouldn’t trust them. If you want the benefits of bulking or a high-protein diet, you have to be just as consistent as the participants of scientific studies.
Some of you may find it easy to chug 4 raw eggs in one go. Some of you may want full-course meals that you may prep the week before.
Whatever you prefer, do it your way but do it consistently and honestly.
- Leaf A, Antonio J. The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition – A Narrative Review. Int J Exerc Sci. 2017 Dec 1;10(8):1275-1296. PMID: 29399253; PMCID: PMC5786199.
- Antonio J, Ellerbroek A, Silver T, Orris S, Scheiner M, Gonzalez A, Peacock CA. A high protein diet (3.4 g/kg/d) combined with a heavy resistance training program improves body composition in healthy trained men and women–a follow-up investigation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Oct 20;12:39. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0100-0. PMID: 26500462; PMCID: PMC4617900.
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