Bulking The Lean Way

When I was younger, I got into lifting weights because I wanted to be a bodybuilder.  I’m sure like many of you reading this, you grew up watching Arnold movies and you wanted to look just like him.  I got my hands on every bodybuilding magazine there was, and read them cover to cover.  One of my favorite bodybuilders to read about was Lee Priest.  For those of you that never heard of Lee Priest, he was known for putting on massive amounts of weight in the off season.  He would literally eat fast food on a daily basis, and his body fat would climb extremely fast in comparison to how lean he would be on stage.  His approach was to eat anything and everything just to get calories in…and it worked for him.  To give you an idea, Lee would bulk up all the way to 285lbs in the off season, and keep in mind he is only 5’4’’!  When he stepped on stage he was 195-200lbs.  Needless to say Lee Priest was known for being the master of bulking.

After graduating high school at 180lbs I tried this approach myself when I went away to college.  I didn’t go the fast food route at least, but I was eating everything that was in front of me, and needless to say it was awesome.  The college cafeteria had everything I could imagine.  I drank whole milk constantly, devoured peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pasta, sloppy joes, and even used a weight gainer shake at night.  My go to meal before bed was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a weight gainer shake with whole milk.  I’m not positive of the calorie count anymore but I think it was over 2000 in one sitting.  In case any of you haven’t tried the weight gainer shakes, they are delicious and go perfect with PB and J.  BEEFCAKE!


I gained plenty of weight eating like this, and I was getting very strong.  The scale was going up so it must mean that I am doing everything right, as part of my bulking plan.  I went from 180lbs to 220lbs in less than a year.  The only problem was I was fat.  I gained some muscle over this time, and a good amount of strength but I now had a belly that was protruding over my waist line.  I went from having visible abs to love handles, and I wasn’t ok with that at all.  Now I know what some of you may be thinking, you don’t care about being lean, but hear me out.  First if your goal is just to be as big as possible then by all means eat all the junk food you want, because every day is cheat day.

Personally it doesn’t make sense to go on a bulking diet to put on 40 or 50lbs only to have more than half of it be bodyfat, and that is if you are lucky.  What people don’t realize is that putting on pure muscle is extremely difficult, and is a very slow process.  The more advanced you get with your training, the more specialized you will need to be with your goals.  For example, a beginner can easily gain muscle, strength, and drop bodyfat from a new program with a good nutritional approach.  As you progress, we all know adding weight to the bar each week becomes harder, and those newbie gains slowly vanish.  At this point in my lifting career I have to make a choice of whether I want to get leaner, or put on muscle.  I like to stay fairly lean year round for many reasons, but getting extremely lean has more to do with when I have to make weight for a contest, that I outlined in my previous article here.

One thing I found out after cutting weight for competitions, and having my bodyfat drop below 8% is that when I went back to gaining muscle my body responded extremely well.  This is also backed by research but by being leaner I had greater insulin sensitivity so I was able to pack on a good amount of muscle fairly quickly, while staying below 10% bodyfat.  Now I also did this through eating loads of nutrient dense foods, or what you could call “body building friendly”, don’t worry I won’t use the term “clean eating” here!  I of course had my fair share of cheat meals, as well as anyone should when trying to pack on muscle, but you can’t let it get out of hand.  Again I am talking about those of you that want to put muscle on without putting on any bodyfat.  I know many people that eat like a strict bodybuilder during the week then shit hits the fan on the weekend.  The problem with this approach is it is very easy to put down excessive amounts of calories in a short amount of time.  As follower of LBEB I’m sure we all would have no problem eating a couple thousand calories in one sitting.  I like to take the approach to not having a “cheat meal” at all, or if someone really needs to have something set then they can have one or two a week.  By saying “not having a cheat meal” I don’t mean I don’t eat some junk food once in a while, because I absolutely do.  I just mean I do not plan for a cheat meal.

If at the moment I’m going out to dinner and I want some cheesecake then I don’t have to worry about when I’m supposed to have my cheat meal, so I can just have it when it’s convenient.  This usually works out to be about once a week, but I feel people fixate on their cheat meal so much that it becomes an obsession.  Once that cheat meal comes along it is very easy to binge eat on all the junk you fantasized about and completely over eat, I know I have been there plenty of times.  Obsessing about your next meal is never a good thing, it’s possible to be strong and lean, while still enjoying your food.

30lb weight cut, with no loss of strength

30lb weight cut, with no loss of strength

Now, let’s go back to putting on excess bodyfat while bulking . As we gain bodyfat we are also decreasing our insulin sensitivity, which is going to make it more difficult to put on solid muscle.  Our bodies like to store fat, unfortunately, and as we store bodyfat, our bodies will want to continue to store it.  On that initial bulking diet you may have gained 5lbs of muscle and 5lbs of fat, but that can quickly turn into 5lbs of muscle and 15 or 20lbs of fat.  Now that we understand why it’s more difficult to put on muscle with a higher body fat, let’s get into what a nutrition plan would look like when you’re going for what I call a lean bulk.  Here was the exact plan that put a solid 10lbs of muscle on in one year with minimal body fat gain.

Meal 1: 4 whole eggs, 1 cup oats, ½ tbsp. coconut oil(with eggs), 1 cup spinach, 2 slices Ezekiel bread, and 1 scoop protein powder in oatmeal.

Cal: 837 Carb: 62 Fat: 41 Prot: 60

Meal 2: 3 scoops whey protein powder and 1 tbsp all natural peanut butter, ½ tbsp. macadamia nut oil, 1 cup oats, or 4 slices Ezekiel bread

Cal: 942 Carb: 63 Fat: 37 Prot: 99

Meal 3: 8oz lean meat (chicken, turkey, tuna) and 1/3 cup almonds or walnuts, 1.5 cups brown rice

Cal: 744 Carb: 75 Fat: 24 Prot: 65

Meal 4: Same as Meal 2

Meal 5: 8 oz ground bison, spinach salad with olive oil and vinegar, Sweet potato

Cal: 503 Carb: 26 Fat: 4 Prot: 56

Meal 6: Same as Meal 3

Meal 7: 3 hard boiled eggs, 1 whey protein powder, ½ cup oats, ½ cup cottage cheese, 2 tbsp peanut butter

Cal: 792 Carb: 42 Fat: 38 Prot: 67

Total Cal 5,504 Carb: 406 Fat: 205 Prot: 511

This is what an off day of training would look like.  On training days the only change is post workout I would replace the brown rice with 2.5 cups of white rice.  During my training I would also use 2 scoops of Karboload from www.TrueNutrition.com with 100g of high quality carbs.  With the addition of these carbs my total Calories were then pushed to roughly 6200, with a total amount of carbs of 575.

This can be used as a template for any of you interesting in packing on pounds of muscle but eating this much food will be similar to training.  I consider myself a fairly advanced competitor as I have been training for nearly 20 years.  Like we have said here on LBEB before, you cannot jump into an advanced program and expect to get to that person’s level.  You have to look at how that advanced competitor got there in the first place.  This protocol took me from 250 to 260 so you will have to scale it to your weight, and how much you would like to gain.  Also my training has a big impact on how many calories I need to take in on a given day.  I weight train 4 days a week, with  2 light conditioning days, and 1 day completely off.  My heavier training days take at least 2 hours, especially when I have an upcoming contest I may train as long as 3, so you can see how my body will need the calories.

If you find yourself staring at a plate of food thinking “how am I going to finish this?” then you are definitely doing something right.  A good way to see if the weight you are putting on is good weight is to do a measurement around your waist every week.  If you have someone to do it for you, you can take a measurement of your arm, waist, hips, and thigh to be completely accurate.  If your waist size is increasing and your pants are fitting tighter, then you know you are putting on excess body fat and will need to cut back on the calories, and most likely the carbs.  It will take some playing around with this to figure out where the sweet spot is to gain the maximal amount of muscle, but again do not expect the pounds to add on rapidly.  A good weight gain will be around 1-2lbs a month…yes read that again 1-2lbs a month to make sure it is mainly muscle!

To review:

-Bulking with the see food diet will only make you fat and in the long run hinder your gains lowering your insulin sensitivity, unless you are Lee Priest, and I’m guessing you’re not.

-Focus mainly on nutrient dense foods, and a lot of them.

-When gaining, allow yourself to have 1-2 cheat meals a week but keep it at that, no cheat weekends.

-Gaining muscle is easier for those with a lower level of bodyfat as they will maintain their sensitivity to insulin.  In my opinion, there is no reason to go above 12% bodyfat.

Gaining good weight is extremely difficult, and by no means a rapid process.  Have patience, add weight to the bar each week, and keep a big appetite.

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