A Guide to the Ultimate Bulking Diet

Chicken, rice and broccoli in a pan.

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If you want to build muscle, you have to lift weights and eat more food than the average person for an extended timeframe. The fitness community calls this process “bulking.” Every person you see with developed muscles has gone through at least one bulking diet. Chances are they’ve done more than a few, since bulking is a steady process that takes time and experience to master.

Many people have their exercise programs figured out, but they don’t know where to begin with their diets. This guide is a good start. Here’s everything you need to know to create the ultimate bulking diet!

Common Misconceptions About Bulking

Several misconceptions exist about bulking that prevent people from reaching their fitness goals. Let’s quickly go over them:

  • You need to have a strict diet: your bulking diet DOES NOT need to have food restrictions. You can include all of your favorite foods (in moderation) and still have a successful bulk.
  • You need to gorge yourself: you also don’t have to pig out to gain weight and muscles. A slight caloric surplus is all you need.
  • You need to gain a lot of pounds: you don’t need to gain a significant amount of weight during your bulk. Focus on your muscles first and aim to gain a maximum of  ½ pounds per week. That sounds manageable, doesn’t it?

Bulking is much simpler than slimy social media influencers lead you to believe. All you need to do is eat in a slight caloric surplus, get enough protein and continue to get stronger in the gym. The muscles will inevitably follow.

Bulking Diet Essentials

A bulking diet can be quite flexible, but it must check off two essential boxes:

  • Caloric Surplus: you must remain in a consistent surplus of 350-500 calories. You can get a solid estimate for this number by using an online maintenance calorie calculator.

It’s okay if you slip up every once in a while, but try to keep these two factors as consistent as possible throughout your bulk to get the best results.

Best Foods for a Bulking Diet

We said you could eat anything you want during your bulk, and that’s true. However, some foods are much better than others. While protein and calories are the most important factors, you also need to eat enough carbohydrates and fats. You also want to limit your fat gain during the bulk. You can’t avoid gaining some fat, but you can limit it by eating the right foods.

Let’s go through the best foods for each nutritional category.

1. Calories

If you live an active lifestyle, it can be difficult to meet your caloric needs during a bulk. You can incorporate a few high-calorie foods into your diet to push yourself into a surplus without needing to stuff yourself. Give these foods a shot:

  • Nuts
  • Granola
  • Peanut butter
  • Whole milk
  • Avocado
  • Butter
  • Olive oil

Pizza, fast food, candy and other junk foods can also boost your calorie intake, but they also make you gain too much fat. Remember: you want to gain as little fat as necessary during your bulk. These alternatives are healthier and won’t impact the scale too much.

2. Protein

Protein is an absolute necessity. After you break down your muscles during a workout, they undergo a healing process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to repair the broken fibers. You must consume enough protein so your muscles can recover and get stronger. These foods should be staples in your diet:

  • Chicken 
  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Eggs

You will also get some protein from other foods, but these Four Horsemen will lay the foundation for your bulk’s success. You should have no problem meeting your daily protein requirements with them in your diet. However, if you find yourself falling short of the target number, protein bars and supplements are helpful resources that will get you over the hump.

If you have personal dietary restrictions and can’t eat meat, check out our Vegetarian’s Guide to Building Muscle for alternative protein sources and other helpful information.

3. Carbohydrates

Carbs are also essential for a bulk because they give you energy, vitamins and minerals. That means you need to eat a healthy supply of grains, fruits and vegetables. Here are the best bulking foods for each group:

  • Grains: whole wheat bread, oatmeal, pasta, rice
  • Fruits: bananas, apples, grapefruits, dates, tomatoes
  • Vegetables: potatoes, broccoli, spinach, green beans

These foods are “good” carbs because they have natural ingredients and the nutrients your body needs to maintain an active lifestyle. “Bad” carbs from processed foods give you fuel, but they don’t give you the same nutritional benefits.

4. Fats

Fats also give you energy and aid in muscle health.  As a general rule, your fats should come from natural sources instead of processed foods. Some of the foods we already mentioned will give you more than enough fat:

  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Fatty meats
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Avocado

Fat is where many people go wrong with their bulks. They eat too much fat (and thus too many calories), which causes them to gain weight more quickly than necessary. They might still be gaining muscle, but they cover it with needless layers of fat along the way. Manage your fat intake so you don’t lose your muscle definition.

Start Building Your Dream Body

This comprehensive guide has all the information you need to create the ultimate bulking diet. It debunks the misconceptions, lays out the essentials and has all the foods you need. You don’t have to be strict and obsess over every detail. You can eat your favorite comfort foods, but only in moderation. Moderation is the key.

Hit your daily calorie and protein goals, continue to get stronger in the gym and your muscles will have no choice but to grow. So what are you waiting for? Start building your dream body today!

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