It has been standard practice in the bodybuilding world for years to “bulk up” during the offseason and then get lean (“cutting” phase) when it comes time for competitions and photo shoots. The underlying theme of a “bulk up” phase is to eat more than your body needs in order to gain muscle as quickly (with quality) as possible. Many men, even regular Joe’s, implement a similar strategy of getting bigger (bulk up) during the winter and trying to get “ripped” in time for summer.
As calorie intake is not an exact science it is inevitable that people who bulk up also overeat, gaining muscle is certainly no exact science. They usually eat more than their body requires simply because they want to avoid missing out on any potential muscle gain. The best plan is always to eat just enough to support muscle growth, but not so much that you increase your body fat. When you provide enough nutrients your body will grow in response to the exercise/stress you put it under and will crave more food that you will provide it. This is the best way to gain muscle. The body doesn’t gain lean muscle in response to the amount of food you consume, but rather in response to the exercise workload. If you consume more calories than your body requires you will not gain more muscle, the extra calories will spillover into fat stores.
The reason why bulking is not a good idea comes down to those evil, expanding, multiplying (yet never dying) fat cells. The negative issues with a typical “bulk phase” is that one will overeat to ensure they gain muscle, and inevitably part of that weight gain is fat.
To understand why this is so bad we must further comprehend a few basic things about fat cells. When we gain fat the existing fat cells we have will EXPAND to a certain point. After that point the body actually creates more fat cells as the existing cells break off into MULTIPLE fat cells, and then these newly generated cells GROW even further. This is important – fat cells grow, and then will multiply, and grow again.
You might be thinking “no big deal, I can exercise and the fat cells will go away”. No – they won’t. Once you create new fat cells they NEVER GO AWAY, exercise will help make them shrink in size, but they will not go away. The unfortunate truth making all of this so much worse is that you can lose muscle as you body breaks it down, but fat cells are yours for life.
So how do you gain muscle without getting fat? If you are planning a traditional “bulk phase” try to strive for just enough calories to facilitate the new muscle growth – just enough, but not too much.