Whether you are looking to improve your body composition or grab some serious gains, your calories and macros play a major role in what you get out of your hard work in the gym. With the wrong approach to bulk dieting, you might end up gaining more than what you intended – like body fat. And your strength performance could take a major hit.
Instead of flying blind when it comes to nutrition, here is your complete guide to hitting your muscle gain goals with the right lean bulking macros.
It goes without saying but eating more calories is only one part of building muscle. You can’t just gorge on junk food and expect to see gains.
To maximise muscle gain you’ll need a combination of the following:
– More calories
– Macronutrient balance
– Good nutrition
– Adequate strength training
Calories will determine the amount of weight you can gain or lose, but your macro ratios play a key role in determining the type of weight – lean tissue vs fatty tissue.
After all, your nutrition intake is important to fuel your engine properly – helping to support your workouts, aid in recovery, and minimise fat gain.
A bulk diet that emphasises quality, nutritious foods is commonly referred to as clean bulking or lean bulking. Whereas dirty bulking emphasizes calories and quantity over quality.
You shouldn’t plan to be on a bulk or a cut long term or permanently for that matter. Try using 12-week blocks to cycle through each phase of your diet: bulking, cutting, and maintenance.
Twelve weeks (or 90 days) give you ample time to see progress, but it isn’t so long that you’re going to burn out or overdo it.
Each season is also about three months, making it easy to divide up your year according to your goals. Winter is a popular bulking season since most people don’t mind putting on pounds this time of year.
The easiest way to calculate macros is using a fitness tracking app or online macro calculator that does the math for you.
Or, to understand how each macro plays a role in your fitness, here is exactly how to set your ideal macro ratio for a lean bulk.
Step 1. Determine Your Bulking Calories
While it is possible to build muscle in a calorie deficit, these gains tend to be minimal. Thus, increasing the amount of food you eat is a great starting place for any bulk.
You can figure out how many calories you need a day for weight gain by learning what your current daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is. This would be the number of calories you would need to eat to maintain your existing weight.
Remember to account for any strength training you plan to do as this will increase your daily calorie needs.
From here, you can add a calorie surplus of 5 to 15% percent to promote a gain of ~0.5% to 1% of your body weight per week. Which for most people would be ½ a pound to 2 pounds of muscle a week.
The amount of lean weight you can gain and how quickly is based on your starting body fat percentage, training experience, genetics, and much more.
If you are newer to bulking, starting at a lower calorie amount and slowly increasing every 3 to 4 weeks will help you add healthy weight. But if you’ve got a good amount of lean muscle, to begin with, or have a hard time gaining weight, you may need to start at a more aggressive amount.
Step 2. Estimate Your Fat Needs to Lean Bulk
Fat is calculated first because a set percentage is typically used -typically around 30% of your calories.
For example, if you need 2,500 calories/day to bulk, your fat goal would be 83 grams a day (1 gram of fat = 9 calories).
(2,500 x 0.30) / 9 = 83 grams
Because fat can be an easy source of the energy needed to gain weight, increasing fat intake is one way to support muscle growth. However, too much fat (over 30% of calories) in some people could end up causing more body fat gains.
Aim to keep your fat intake at 20 to 30% of your daily intake to get the potential health benefits, but not overdo it. And opt for more healthy fats from plants and seafood where possible.
Step 3. Calculate Your Protein Needs to Gain Muscle
Consuming enough protein is essential when it comes to muscle gain since it is the sole source of amino acids needed to build lean tissue.
It is also crucial for post-workout recovery, helping to repair muscle damage and support existing muscle mass.
In addition, protein is the least likely of all the macronutrients to be stored as body fat in a calorie surplus – potentially helping to reduce body fat increases.
The amount of protein you need to build muscle is determined by your fitness level and existing muscle mass – essentially, the more muscle you have and the more you use it, the more protein you will need.
It is recommended to eat one gram of protein per pound of lean mass to maintain existing muscle, and slightly more to add mass.
According to the research, a high protein diet – anywhere from 1 to 1.5 grams of protein a day, per pound of body weight, is suggested to support more muscle growth and less body fat gain in a bulking diet.
Of course, the exact amount that works for you can depend on various factors. It is not always necessary to eat hundreds of grams of protein daily to see muscle gain.
Step 4. Determine How Many Carbs You Need for Bulking
While protein is essential to building muscle, carbs are also pretty crucial.
Carbohydrates can supply energy for your muscle-building workouts, and may also support muscle growth in other ways – such as supporting exercise recovery and the prevention of further muscle breakdown.
A higher carb might also be ideal for weight gain, with some studies suggesting that high carb intake is less likely to promote fat storage compared to high fat intake when calorie needs are exceeded.
Of course, this always depends on the person and how well/often your use carbs for energy.
To get a precise estimate, you can figure out your daily carbohydrate needs by calculating your protein and fat needs first (1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories).
For example, a 200-pound adult who needs 2500 calories, 83 grams of fat and 200 grams of protein, would need
2500 calories – (83g of fat x 9) – (200g of protein x 4) = 953 carb calories /4 = 238 grams of carbs per day
Counting Macros for Weight Gain
Calculating your exact macro needs is only half the battle. In order to get optimal results, you’ll need to track your macros using a macro-friendly app.
This can take some discipline and often means logging everything you eat and drink, as precisely as possible. Otherwise, you are just guessing when it comes to your nutrition.
Tracking macros is the best way to ensure your daily macro split is on point and that you are sticking to your diet consistently – which ultimately leads to results.