Brace yourself! Bulking season is upon us! Yes, it’s that time of the year when thousands of individuals who want to increase their size go on a mission of eating everything and anything in sight! Some might call it a “dirty bulk”. Sure, the numbers on the scales go up, but is it really the best and healthiest way to increase muscle? I would argue absolutely not!
A typical day in the life of a “bulker” during bulking season might look something like this:
Breakfast – large bowl of porridge made with milk, 1-2 pieces of fruit, four egg omelette
Snack – two high protein oat bars, handful of nuts and dried fruit
Lunch – two turkey sandwiches
Snack – protein shake, ten oatcakes with peanut butter
Dinner – whole pizza, garlic bread, side salad with dressing
Snack – casein protein shake, tub of cottage cheese, handful of nuts
Before you know it, you’re in a 5000+kcal surplus, which is a big mistake. This is a state of nutrient overload and will lead to anabolic resistance, which is a great way to throw a spanner in the works of protein synthesis (aka muscle gain). Anabolic resistance is an impaired ability to build muscle caused by an excess calorie consumption over time. It’s important to understand that nutrient overload will cause three main problems, which all combine to create anabolic resistance.
Problem #1 Increased body fat
It’s a well known fact, if you consume to many calories you’ll store body fat. Building muscle doesn’t require a 5000+kcal plus surplus, so all of that extra energy will likely be stored as fat. Excess fat gain can make you more resistant to muscle growth even in terms of normal anabolic hormone levels – it can certainly impair testosterone levels. It’s also worth mentioning, once a fat cell is created it cannot be destroyed, it can only shrink. This is because fat cells (adipocytes) are like balloons. You can only fill these balloons until they’re full, and once they are full a new fat cell must be created to store the rest of the fat. By increasing your body fat, purely for the sake of increasing your muscle, it will make it harder to lose the fat and easier to gain it again over time.
Problem #2 Insulin resistance
Insulin resistance occurs when insulin levels are sent on a roller coaster ride over time. A typical bulking diet, consisting of “dirty carbs” will cause constant crashes in blood sugar and will send insulin levels all of the place. Those that are insulin resistant will have an increased tendency to store carbs as fat. This feeds straight back into problem one.
Problem #3 Leptin resistance
Leptin is a hormone that functions as a controller of metabolism and as a hunger regulator. It’s commonly referred to as the satiety hormone. It’s released when you’re feeling full and with a typical bulking diet, you’re always feeling full! When leptin levels are high enough for a long enough duration, you will develop leptin resistance. As a result the brain will never be satisfied that you are full, and you will therefor lose a degree of appetite control. This feeds straight back into problem one. You should now begin to see how a “dirty bulk” can become a viscous cycle.
So what’s the solution? A more effective and healthier way to increase muscle mass and size is to consume a high protein diet, with plenty of greens, moderate fats and carbs at the appropriate times. Yes it’s true you need a calorie surplus to increase muscle, something around 300-500kcal at a time is ideal. When the numbers on the scales stall, increase it gradually. If you feel you need more structure to your macros and eating habits, the protocol outlined in my training manual The 12 Week Lean Muscle Project will be perfect for you. The workouts are also pretty effective at adding lean muscle mass too! Download your copy here