Here's How To Lean Bulk And Build Muscle Without Gaining Unwanted Body Fat
If you're reading this you probably want to build muscle. Ideally, without gaining a lot of unwanted body fat. Old-school approaches would have you eating everything in sight. And following the "eat big to get big" mantra. But there is another way. Enter the lean bulk.
A lean bulk is a way of building muscle in a more structured way. Ultimately, aiming to make gains and staying relatively lean.
But is the concept of a lean bulk based on fact or fantasy? After all, it seems too good to be true.
In this article, you'll discover why a lean bulk IS the most efficient way to build muscle without getting fat. More importantly, I'll guide you through 6 simple steps to help start your lean bulk in the right way.
So if you want to transition to a lean bulk, build muscle, and keep body fat in check, read on.
Why You Should Ditch The Phrase "Lean Bulk"
Before we start, let's address the bulked elephant in the room.
Bulking-related phrases such as 'Lean Bulk', 'Dirty Bulk', and 'Clean Bulk' are enough to give anyone a disordered relationship with food. And as such, they should be banished from your vocabulary.
Food is neither 'clean' nor 'dirty'. Nor are your food choices an epic moral struggle of good versus evil. So unless you're rolling your chicken breasts in shit, or scrubbing broccoli with bleach, the terms have no place in this discussion.
Then there's the word 'bulking' itself. Conjuring up images of significant fat gain, it leaves you fearing the process of building muscle. Scared of undoing your hard work and piling the pounds back on.
So let's revert back to simple, plain language that doesn't strike fear into your soul.
Bulking is simply building muscle. And a lean bulk is an optimal way to do that without gaining unnecessary body fat.
Lean Bulk Vs Old-School Bulk
"You don't need a shit-ton of calories to build a fuck-ton of muscle." Mitchell, 2019.
Despite what the bro in the gym (who looks like a beachball with limbs) told you, a huge calorie surplus isn't necessary to build muscle. In fact, the notion of mindlessly pounding the calories is old-school thinking that should be banished to Bro-science Room 101.
A calorie surplus is the most efficient way to build muscle, but the latest research shows you're unlikely to need as many calories as you think.
So the concept of a lean bulk is not only real, it's should be your preferred course of action.
And now that you've firmly embraced the idea of the lean bulk, here's 7 steps to get it right.
Lean Bulk Step 1: Calories
Building muscle is not a calorie game. You can build muscle in a deficit or at maintenance. But a surplus is optimal. And because you're concerned about gaining unwanted body fat, energy balance is the logical start point for your lean bulk.
Because if you get this part wrong, 2 things can happen.
- Making gains will be slower than they need to be.
- You'll gain body fat too quickly and be back dieting sooner than you want.
The most recent research suggests that a 358-478 kcals surplus is an optimal range to build muscle. Although, this may be at the top-end of the range for many people. And for some it will be excessive.
Being more conservative would be a more pragmatic approach. Adding calories in a controlled way, based on how your body responds, is an ideal way to avoid setting calories too high from the outset.
So calculate your maintenance calories based on your current weight. You can use this free online calorie and macro calculator to do that. Using the same calorie calculator, set your calorie surplus to either 5 or 10%. This is lean bulk territory.
These additional calories should help maximise your workouts, create the training stimulus needed to build muscle, and fuel the adaptation process.
With your new calorie target set, monitor progress over 2-3 weeks. If you are transitioning out of a deficit, you may experience an initial increase in weight. This is likely to be driven by glycogen replenishment, which is perfectly normal.
Ideally, aim for 0.5-1kg of total body weight gain per month. And adjust your calories up or down to stay within this range.
Lean Bulk Step 2: Protein
Proteins are the building blocks of muscle. And without protein, you won't make gains. It's that simple.
Adequate protein stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS), which is the process of building new muscle tissue. Adequate protein maximises your efforts in the gym. And, broadly speaking, your protein requirements don't need to change whether you are in a deficit, at maintenance, or transitioning to a lean bulk.
An optimal amount of protein per day is 1.8-2.7g/kg. Although, going much over 2g/kg is unlikely to yield any additional benefit and only detract from the amount of calories you can apportion to carbs and fat.
As hunger shouldn't be an issue on a lean bulk, opt for the minimum amount of protein that delivers maximum benefit. For most, this will be c.2g/kg (which is also nice and easy to remember). Females can go lower than this, potentially as low as 1.5g/kg.
Arguably, protein frequency is more important than total protein intake. This is because optimising MPS multiple times during the day is more effective for making gains. One massive serving of protein is less effective than, multiple smaller servings. And if you plan it correctly, hitting your daily target will be a by-product of focusing on frequency.
Here's how to optimally set up your diet for protein frequency.
- 0.3g/kg post-workout recovery shake (ideally whey protein).
- 0.4-0.5g/kg 2-3 main meals containing mixed protein sources.
- 0.6g/kg pre-bed meal (ideally casein-based protein, ie greek yoghurt).
How much do you need to be concerned with protein quality on your lean bulk?
The answer is not very much. Because in the grand scheme of things, it's unlikely to make a huge difference. Especially, if you stick to a few basic guidelines.
First up, whey protein. Often seen as a magical gains powder, the effect of whey is largely overplayed. Whey protein may have a marginal benefit as your post-workout protein of choice. But don't get obsessed about it.
If you're following a diet incorporating animal products, you have even less to think about when it comes to protein. Most of these protein sources will have all the essential amino acids you need and have high bio-availability. In simple terms, this means your muscles are getting the proteins they need in an easily absorbed format.
Vegans may need to think more about their protein choices. It's 100% possible to build muscle on a plant-only diet. However, you will need to pay close attention to the amino acid profile of your foods, particularly Leucine, as this is crucial to stimulate MPS.
This means a little research is required if you want to maximise your gains. It's likely you'll need to consume more total protein each day as well. Start by increasing intake by 20-30% above the 1.8-2g/kg recommendation.
Lean Bulk Step 3: Carbs And Fat
After accounting for protein, your remaining calories should go to carbs and fat. And while there is no optimal macro split for building muscle, there are options that make more sense (at least in theory).
Apportioning 20-40% of total calories to fat will ensure optimal health and hormone production. Go too low on fats and you could compromise testosterone and estrogen production, ultimately limiting your ability to build muscle.
Carbs are the body's preferred fuel source for high intensity exercise. And since throwing weight around in the gym fits this description, fuelling your body in the right way is important. Therefore, don't shy away from incorporating carbs in your diet. After all, carbs are life, right?
Lean Bulk Step 4: Supplements
There are no magical muscle-building supplements. At least none you can get from your favourite online supplement supplier. But there are a few that can help optimise your performance in the gym. And at this point, every little bit matters.
Top of the list is creatine. One of the most tested supplements available. And its benefits have been proven time and again. So if your goal is to make gains, make creatine top of your supplement list.
L-Carnitine is useless for fat loss, but does show merit when it comes to limiting fat gain in a calorie surplus. So adding 2g per day to your diet, could go some way to keeping unwanted fat at bay.
Beta Alanine is another supplement worth looking into. Often an ingredient in pre-workout products, Beta Alanine gives you a tingling sensation before training. Feeling as though 1,000 ants are crawling over your skin isn't for everyone. But for some it gets them hyped and ready to train.
Although, it's worth noting, Beta Alanine doesn't work acutely. The effects don't kick in 30 minutes after taking it, much like creatine. So, in some respects, it's pointless in your pre-workout. Especially, if it's not at an effective dose.
Here's a guide on how to supplement with Beta Alanine correctly:
- Loading phase = 80mg per kg of bodyweight for 4-10 weeks. Spread into 4 servings per day.
- Maintenance phase = 40mg per kg of bodyweight for daily. Spread into multiple servings per day, if required.
Lean Bulk Step 5: Food Quality
Building muscle and being in a calorie surplus isn't a license to throw good nutrition out of the window. Nutrients matter.
Although, even on a lean bulk, you have more scope to include calorie-dense foods into your diet. Essentially, once you've satisfied your nutrient requirements, don't fear including more indulgent foods in your diet.
At this point, some will tell you to follow the 80/20 rule. But, in reality, it might not apply.
For example, if your maintenance calories are 2,000 kcals/day, then following the 80/20 rule would give you 400 calories for more indulgent food. It also assumes the remaining 1,600 kcals will be sufficient to satisfy your nutrient needs.
In your lean bulk, total calories will increase to c.2,200 kcals/day (10% surplus). Theoretically, you could still get the nutrients you need from 1,600 kcals/day, leaving 600 kcals for calorie-dense food options. Taking you to a 70/30 split, as opposed to the classic 80/20.
However, bear in mind that using the extra calories to optimally fuel your training might be a better use of the extra food freedom. Oreos, pop tarts, and doughnuts might sound great, but they might not be the best choice, day-in-day-out.
What About Cheat Meals And Cheat Days?
Much like the terms 'clean bulk' and 'dirty bulk', the concept of cheat meals and days need to be banished for good. There's no need to "cheat" on your diet at any point. Least of all when you're in a calorie surplus.
Firstly, you should have enough calories to manage food choices so that you can incorporate any food into your diet.
Secondly, If you want to go out and eat pizza, or indulge in a few evening drinks, then do it. You don't need to feel like you cheated on your diet. Just don't do it all the time.
Lean Bulk Step 6: Training
Training is arguably the most important aspect of building muscle. But the principles don't change whether you're losing body fat or trying to make gains on a lean bulk.
The focus remains on progressive overload and good form. The only difference is the rate at which you're likely to make progress. With more calories and energy, your output for a given exercise is likely to increase.
You may also want to increase training volume in a surplus, more than you would in a deficit. This is mainly due to the fact you'll have increased capacity to train and recover. Although, don't be tempted to add sets just for the sake of it. Approach your training in a considered and methodical manner. To do this, periodising your training into 12 week blocks could work well.
For more detail on periodisation, listen to this episode of the podcast I recorded with Dr. Mike Israetel.
Or watch the YouTube version, below.
The Bottom Line On How To Lean Bulk Successfully
A lean bulk is likely to be the most effective way to build muscle without gaining unnecessary body fat. Approach the process of building muscle in the right way and you can achieve the body you've been striving for, without fearing excess weight gain.
Setting up a lean bulk shouldn't feel daunting. In fact, it's pretty easy when you approach it logically.
Start by focusing on calories, protein, and training. After that, build on this solid foundation as you go.
But remember, this is going to take time. And you'll need to show patience throughout. Sadly, making gains is a far slower process than losing body fat. And this means you need to give yourself time to grow.
Aim for your lean bulk phases to be 3-6 months in length (longer if body fat remains in check). Don't shit the bed if your scale weight increases, this is part of the process. Be balanced, measured, and make logical decisions based on data, not emotion.
What are your thoughts on lean bulking? Has this article given you the confidence to build muscle without getting fat? Let me know in the comments below, or drop me a message on Instagram (@iron_paradise_fitness).
Here's The Next Step In Achieving Your Fitness Goals
After reading this article, you should feel confident about starting a lean bulk. But what about the other pieces of the puzzle? Maybe you feel my personal 1:1 coaching would help accelerate the process of achieving your fitness goals. And you'd be right!
Through my online coaching programme, The Lean Life Method, I'll help you lose fat, build muscle, and achieve the body you've been striving for. Ultimately, taking the guesswork out of training and nutrition, so you can live a leaner, healthier life for good.
With The Lean Life Method, you’ll learn a simple, stress-free way to achieve your fitness goals. And you'll feel more confident and healthy than ever before.
And there's no need to torture yourself in the gym, avoid wine and pizza, or kill your social life in the process.
I'm guessing you've spent thousands on pills, powders, and programmes that delivered nothing. So you might be wondering what's different about me?
The simple truth is this... I get results. And I'll teach you everything you need to know, so you can maintain those results. So answer me this.
- How much precious time are you spending trying to figure out what's right, instead of making progress?
- Are you sick and tired of never seeing the results your hard effort deserves?
- How much stress and frustration is your lack of progress adding to your life?
A lack of clarity might be holding you back from living the leaner, healthier life you deserve.
Schedule A Consultation Call
Click here find out more about the results, people just like you, are getting with the programme.
And if you feel like my personal 1:1 support and coaching could be just what you're looking for, schedule a free consultation call.
So, if you're even the slightest bit interested, click here for more information.
But for now, all I’ll say is, keep living the Lean Life. And I’ll see you soon.
P.S. If you want to follow me on Instagram, go here.