Bulking up is a complicated process, well bulking up correctly is complicated!
Most people are either way too enthusiastic in their calorie intakes or way too conservative.
But it’s not just about getting your calories right, it’s also important that you are eating the right foods.
In this article we are going to look at what foods to eat while bulking up i.e. muscle building foods.
Establishing Your Calorie Target
Before embarking on a bulking diet you should first establish what your goals are.
How much muscle do you want to gain, what is an acceptable amount of body fat to accrue, and what time do you have available to complete this bulk in.
As you can imagine, a 50kg guy who has 12 weeks to gain 15kg is going to require a completely different calorie target to a 70kg guy who is looking to gain 3kg within 4 months.
A common bulking rule of thumb is to find your maintenance calorie target (how much calories you can consume without gaining or losing weight) and adding 500 calories to that.
But if you are looking for more accurate results (and you absolutely should be) then utilising the precision nutrition calorie calculator is a much more effective move .
Calculating Macronutrient Targets
The next thing that you need to decide is your macronutrient split. You want lots of protein to help build muscle, but carbs and fats also have their uses.
A low fat or low carb diet is not going to improve your bulking.
Your best bet would be to follow the guidelines created by Helms, Aragon, & Fitschen (2013) who looked at natural bodybuilding contest preparation .
They recommended 2.3-3.1g of protein per kg of lean body mass. This is a measure of all of your body weight minus the weight of body fat.
If you weigh 90kg and are currently 10% body fat you would have 81kg of lean body mass (LBM). So to get your protein target you would multiply 81 by any number between 2.3 and 3.1 (depending on personal preference and initial body weight).
If we use our 81kg LBM example again then their protein intake could be anywhere between 186.3g and 251.1g per day.
The study also recommends 15-30% of your calories should come from fat, and the rest to come from carbohydrates.
As you can probably see, there are no specific numbers here, the range of carbs, protein, and fats are all quite large. So you have a lot more freedom than you would have thought.
What Makes a Good Bulking Food?
There is no definitive bulking food, the diet requires a lot of diversity. But there are some characteristics that can help you pick a good bulking food.
Being calorie dense is usually a good feature. Calorie dense foods are ones that contain a lot of calories in very small amounts.
For example olive oil can contain as many calories in just one tablespoon as 5 bags of spinach (citation needed for that, but you get the idea).
You want a lot of high protein foods, but be careful that the high protein foods that you choose aren’t also very high in fat.
You are looking for calorie dense foods, but you still don’t want to be accidentally consuming double your calorie targets!
One misconception is that endless junk food is okay on a bulk, and it can be – provided you don’t mind how much body fat you gain by the end of the bulk.
You’ll do better if you think of yourself as on a diet, albeit a diet where you need to eat a LOT of food. Bulking does not give you carte blanche to eat whatever you want, you still need to track macros and calories.
Remember also that you still want to be consuming a lot of vitamins and minerals, you don’t want to become malnourished just because you are constantly chasing high calorie, high protein foods.
Six Examples of Good Foods to Eat While Bulking Up
While we’re not going to force you to read 4,000 acceptable foods for a bulking diet, it is a good idea to mention six examples of good foods to eat while bulking up so that you can understand what makes a good bulking food.
Example #1: Eggs
A good source of protein, good source of fats, calorie dense, goes well with lots of meals, and even better they are ridiculously cheap.
Eggs are not only a great bulking food, but they are a great diet food full stop. One boiled egg contains 155 calories, 13g of protein, and 11g of fat.
You can also increase the protein to calorie ratio by mixing in some egg whites to regular eggs for meals such as scrambled eggs or omelettes.
Example #2: Steak
Like eggs a good piece of steak can be high in fats, but they are even higher in protein.
Steak can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Tastes amazing, is a source of creatine, and if you cut the fatty parts off you can increase the protein to calorie ratio (just like with eggs).
The only downside to steak is the cost. Definitely not for the bulker on a budget.
Example #3: Peanut Butter
This next food choice is an interesting one. On the one hand, peanut butter is cheap, calorie dense, and a good source of protein. On the other hand, it is possibly too calorie dense.
100g of peanut butter may contain 25g of protein, but it also contains 588 calories!
Even people on aggressive bulks may find that a large serving of peanut butter won’t fit into their calories without having to sacrifice other foods.
If you are struggling to hit your calorie targets though, there are few foods that compare. Just a tablespoon of peanut butter could help you hit your calories in the evening.
Example #4: Milk
Another cheap option, which is a decent source of protein, is high in calcium, and can be used to upgrade protein shakes into bulking protein shakes.
Try to go for the lower fat versions if possible, but if you prefer full fat then just make sure that it fits into your macros.
Example #5: Avocados
Healthy, delicious, versatile, and avocadoes are a great calorie-dense food. They also contain lots of nutrients.
Avocados contain around 320 calories per pear, and have 29g of fat. They also contain 4g of protein, and are a good source of vitamin K and fibre.
Example #6: Sweet Potato
A baked sweet potato is one of the easiest foods in the world to make, you can also easily roast, mash, or slice and sauté them.
Sweet potato even works when it’s cold or reheated in a microwave. Making them the perfect bro food (think Tupperware containers and the office microwave).
They are excellent sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B-6. You can also get 163 calories from a large sweet potato, as well as 3.6g of protein and 37g of carbohydrates.
While a bulk should not be seen as an excuse to eat all the junk food that you want, it is definitely an opportunity to enjoy some of the higher calorie options around.
The main question you should be asking though, is what are your reasons for bulking? Because many people who want to bulk are not in good enough condition to warrant a cut.
Most coaches will recommend that you get as lean as possible before beginning a bulk, if you feel that your physique is somewhere in between massive muscles and ripped, then it makes sense to train for ripped first.
There is also the option of not cutting OR bulking. Just hitting a specific calorie target while ensuring that your protein intake is high and that you train consistently.
The longer you stay at this the better your physique will get. Then you can slowly increase or decrease calories to make adjustments to your physique, rather than going all-in.
If you are still committed to bulking then remember to do it properly, lots of fruit and vegetable consumption. A lot of protein from a diverse range of sources, supplements, and good carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, pulses, and sweet potatoes (to name a few).
Remind yourself that you are on a diet not attending an all-you can eat buffet. Your calorie tracking is as important (if not more) as it would be while on a cut.
The worse your bulk is, the longer you will need to spend in a deficit to lose that extra body fat.
This means that you are sacrificing an easy cut for junk food. That pendulum swing can be tough psychologically, which is why a lot of people struggle to recover from their bulks.
Remember, your diet is one of the most important aspects of building muscle, but it is certainly not the only aspect.
Working out intensely and getting plenty of rest between them is also essential. As is the use of supplementation.
The link below will help you choose which supplement to choose when bulking and looking to build muscle.