Getting big on a healthy diet is not as easy as it looks. But, if you want to gain more muscle than fat and stay healthy year round, clean bulking is the way to go.
Clean bulking requires you to increase your caloric intake while eating nutritious foods. This is advantageous, as it keeps you healthy and makes banishing fat easier during your cutting phase.
However, it’s harder to know where to begin. That’s why we’re presenting the top ten clean bulking basics to make the process easier:
Determine Calorie Intake
The first step in a clean bulking program is to determine how many excess calories you need to gain weight.
First, determine how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. You can calculate this by using a metabolic rate calculator like the one found here or by tracking your current calorie intake (if your weight has been staying the same).
Bodybuilder and personal trainer Matt Weik suggests you should add 250 to 500 calories each day when bulking and see how much weight you gain by the end of the week. Eating 500 extra calories a day should help you gain a pound in a week.
You don’t want to overdo it, though, or you could gain more fat than you want.
Plan Meals in Advance
Make sure to plan meals in advance, so you’re not tempted to grab something that’s less than nutritious.
In planning your meals, include a balance of protein, complex carbs, and vegetables. Here are some examples:
- Salmon on brown rice with corn and peas
- Chicken curry with vegetables
- Potato with baked beans and lettuce
- Turkey sandwich with avocado
- Tuna pasta and cottage cheese
Focus on Protein
Since the point of a clean bulk is to build as much muscle as possible, you’ll want to consume a lot of protein for muscle growth. Bodybuilder Derek “Beast” Charlebois recommends eating 1 to 1.5 grams of protein for every pound body weight.
While healthy sources of protein like chicken, turkey, and fish are important, it’s also a good idea to take a protein shake to boost protein intake, especially around workout times.
Adjust Your Diet for Training Days
Your diet should be slightly different on days you train versus non-training days. On training days, maximize muscle growth by eating a lot of protein and provide energy through eating healthy carbs. Also, eat within 90 minutes after training to optimize nutrient uptake to muscles.
On non-training days, your goal should be to retain muscle while avoiding gaining fat. So, you want to cut back on carb intake and focus on protein and healthy fats.
Try a Variety of Foods
Plenty of nutritious (and delicious) food options are available to try during a clean bulk, such as the following:
- Protein: chicken, tuna, fish, lean beef, eggs, steak, turkey
- Carbs: oatmeal, beans, brown rice, pasta, potatoes
- Vegetables: lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, cauliflower, cucumber, onions, tomatoes, zucchini
- Fruits: berries, apples, grapefruit
- Fats: natural peanut butter, olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish
- Dairy: cottage cheese, milk*
*Some people trying to gain weight swear by the GOMAD diet, or Gallon of Milk A Day diet. Whole milk digests quickly and is high in protein and carbs.
Weight Train Correctly
A clean bulking diet doesn’t do much for muscle growth if you’re not actively working to build muscle. At least several days a week, you should hit the gym.
Focus on compound movements that work many muscle groups throughout the body—such as squats, deadlifts, and barbell presses—rather than isolated movements. The key is to perform these movements with proper form first and then work on adding weight later.
Always push yourself to do better, but don’t feel the need to work out for more than an hour at a time. Short, intense workouts are the most beneficial, and resting your muscles is crucial for muscle growth.
Go Light on the Cardio
Cardio exercise is fine during a clean bulking diet, according to Weik. But, too much cardio causes you to burn calories, making it hard to retain mass. So, focus on weight training, with a little bit of cardio, during your clean bulking time.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is crucial for muscle recovery. During sleep, growth hormone is released to promote muscle tissue repair.
Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. You might consider drinking protein before bed to prevent muscle breakdown.
Determine Bulking Length
How long should you clean bulk? Well, eating clean can (and should) happen at any time.
As for bulking, though, it depends on your goals and progress. A bulking phase can last 6 to 8 months; once you reach your goal, reduce calories to begin the cutting phase.
Record Your Progress
It’s important to keep track of your progress, so you can make adjustments if needed.
Measure your weight gain progress each week. It’s a good idea to keep a fitness journal of what you ate, what and how you trained, and how much weight and muscle you gained, plus goals for the upcoming week.
Tracking your progress is a simple and effective way to reach your clean bulking goals as efficiently as possible.
-  Matt Weik. “10 Newbie Tips for Bulking – Food, Supplements, Training & More!”
-  Derek “Beast” Charlebois. “Top 10 Rules of Successful Clean Bulking.”
-  “[How To] Eat To Get Big Without Getting Fat: Clean Bulk Diet.”
-  “GOMAD: How to Gain 25 lbs in 25 Days with Squats & Milk.”
-  “Sleep and Muscle Building.”
-  “Topic: What are the Best Foods and Supplements for Bulking?”