I got an email from one of my readers the other day.  It’s always nice to hear from you guys.  Whether it be general health and fitness questions or enquiries about my services ;)

This chappy had a question about muscle gain.  He’d read my last email about that renegade Seagull tea-leafing me chicken drumstick and was intrigued to know what I’m doing muscle wise.   If you missed my last post/email, I’m trying to bulk up my skinny ass (not literally my ass, that would be weird).  You see, in the past I’ve lifted fairly heavy weights and put on muscle, but made the mistake of never matching my training with the nutrition side of things.  In simply terms, I never ate enough to get BIG.  So while I got stronger, I never put on any serious size (female readers, take note).

This leads me to my reader’s first question…

“Should I first bulk up, increasing calorie intake to do so and therefore expect some increase in fat levels whilst building muscle before cutting down/burning the fat to reveal the fruits if your labour?”

The short answer to this is “YES”.  If the goal is muscle mass, it’s easier to ‘bulk up’ first by increasing your calorie intake.  Bulking is something that body builders use to increase muscle mass. It generally involves lifting weights and eating LOTS. How much you bulk and for how long is another question!

Many guys go overboard with their ‘bulk’ eating too much food, protein shakes/bars, etc. and get a little podgy around the middle.  It seems like some men are on a never ending bulk.  I call these people “Strong-Ass-Fat-Dudes”, you’ve probably seen them in the gym.  I know some guys who will eat anything and everything without worrying about how much fat they put on during their bulk.  This is known as a ‘dirty bulk’.  Me, I’m a bit more reserved and  like to keep an eye on my waist measurement whilst tracking the other measurements such as chest, arms, legs, etc.  I don’t mind too much if my waist creeps up, but if it gets out of hand I reel the calories back in and check again the following week.  This method might prove slower when it comes to adding overall size, but It’ll save time when trying to lean out, losing the extra fat I may have gained at the end of the bulk.

If you decide to bulk and find that the scale is creeping up by more than 1-2 pounds a week you can bet your assimus that some of it is lard.  A few extra pounds of fat aren’t going to be the end of the world, but it’s something you need to be aware of.  Muscle gain is slow and steady process, no matter what the supplement companies would have us believe.

Now, if you’ve read this far you might start to wonder if you need to get your bulk on.  Hold your horses!  I’m not saying you HAVE to bulk to add muscle, but if you want to see some LARGE gains in the old pecs it’ll certainly help.

The problem is that the majority of men want to lose weight AND add muscle.  This is sometimes a conflict of interest, as trying to do both at the same time isn’t as effective as choosing one or the other.  That’s not to say it can’t be done mind.  For example, if you’re carrying a bit of extra timber or you’re a newbie to exercise (lifting in particular), you can add a small amount of muscle tone relatively quickly AND lose fat without having to throw any extra calories into the mix for muscle growth.  With the increase in exercise your body will use the incoming energy (via food) to fuel the muscles and aid recovery.  It will then dip into the fat stores if there isn’t enough energy to meet the overall activity demands, which of course helps you burn the excess fat.  This is great if you just want to lose weight, but if you want the BIG gains in muscle size, you’re going to need to fuel those muscles and give them a bloody good reason to grow.  This means training harder and eating more calories than your body currently needs for several weeks (sometimes months).

Let’s get one thing straight.  Nutrition is just as important for muscle gain, as it is fat loss – if you’re unsure how important it is let me say it again…

It’s CRITICAL TO YOUR SUCCESS.

If size is your goal you’ll need to eat more, but special attention needs to be paid to your post workout meal, which leads me nicely into my reader’s second question…

“Will you use any supplements or are you a believer in relying on what Mother Nature has to offer. If you do use supplements, which ones and when.”

I do use supplements, but I don’t go overboard – I’m not a professional athlete or fitness model.  I’m currently using a few different supplements: USN Anabolic Drive (after training), Fenugreek (after every meal), Omega 3 (after every meal), Phosphatydl Serine (before going to bed) and a green life drink (wheat grass, barley grass, spirulina and alfafa – in the morning).

The USN Anabolic Drive is purely for mass, as it contains a mix of protein and fast releasing carbs with many proven muscle enhancers to boot (e.g. BCAAs, Glutamine, Creatine, + others).  If I wasn’t bulking I wouldn’t bother with this product and instead I’d get the majority of my calories from real food (meat, fish, veg, fruits, eggs, nuts).  Occasionally, I might throw in a shake made from coconut milk, pea/hemp protein powder, banana and cashew/almond butter, but that’s it.  To be lean and mean you don’t need the “Muscle Mass Gainers”, but to pack on SERIOUS size they can really make a difference.

Where to begin?

The key is to first decide what you want – do you want to lose fat or gain muscle?  Remember, you’re unlikely to be effective doing both unless you’re already overweight or a beginner to the weights room and even then, you’re unlikely to appear on the cover of Men’s Health magazine anytime soon.

If you’re already overweight, then why would you want to bulk?  Common sense, right?  On the flipside, if you’re relatively slim or just a few pounds overweight you might well consider a bulking phase if your goal is muscle mass.  If you do decide to jump on the bulking bandwagon, you’ll want to keep an eye on your progress.   I suggest you monitor the scales AND the inches, so that you can address any problems and make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

When I’m bulking I usually aim for three months and then assess the situation.  If I’m happy with the increase in muscle mass, I’ll then look to carve away the excess fat through a combination of a low carb diet, perhaps some intermittent fasting, weights, interval training and metabolic conditioning.  This is what the pro’s call “cutting”.  If I feel the need to increase muscle mass further, I’ll extend the bulk until I’m satisfied.

It’s worth noting that some people will bulk for several months and as I mentioned earlier, some seem to be on a never ending bulk!  12 weeks is good for me and then I may spend 4-6 weeks cutting.  These numbers are just general guidelines that I use;  I  also like to use the mirror as a way of measuring my program as well as my circumferences.  Once my body fat looks relatively low, I’ll then look at getting the body fat callipers out to see what percentage my body fat is at.  Whilst in a cutting phase, I don’t expect to see any improvements in muscle size or strength.   The goal is to drop body fat whilst maintaining as much muscle mass as possible.  Plain and simple.

You might be wondering when all this stops.  That’s up to you!  You can go into a maintenance phase whenever you feel happy with your shape and size.  However, life has a habit of getting in the way of your fitness goals which often means you’ll be changing things up every few months.  Take me for example, I’ve NOT done a bulking phase for over 2 years.  Mostly due to the arrival of my beautiful baby girl, Tallulah.   Let me tell you, life gets turned upside down when you have a child and hitting the gym several times in a week won’t be on the cards.  Thankfully she is now sleeping well and I can balance work, family responsibilities, and social engagements with my own fitness goals.  This is what I call, happy days!

This article actually started off as an email, but hey-ho, I hope it helps you understand a little bit more about the world of muscle mass.

If you’ve got any comments feel free to stick them below….

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Gavin Walsh
Gavin Walsh

A British fitness and fat loss magician that helps men and women lose the jelly from their belly pronto. Gavin is the head coach here at Body Fixers and has been featured in the likes of Men's Health, Women's Health and Men's Fitness, as well appearing on British TV several times with delightful nuggets of fitness and fat loss wisdom.

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