Bulking up and getting big muscles can seem impossible if you’ve always been skinny. No matter how much you seem to eat and how often you go to the gym, gaining weight can seem like an uphill battle.
Of course, you’ll need to lift heavy weights to gain muscle, so it’s worth investing in a good set of weight plates. Here are some essentials for bulking.
You Need a Caloric Surplus
You need a caloric surplus to put on extra muscle. A caloric surplus is when you eat more calories per day than you burn. You burn calories by doing cardio, walking, or going about your day. This surplus allows your body to repair your muscles and let them grow.
On the other hand, a caloric deficit is when you burn more calories than you consume. At that point, your body has to draw upon its fat reserves to get energy, as there is not enough energy from the calories you consume to do all your daily activities. After your fat reserves, your body eventually turns to your muscle for energy, preventing muscle gain.
Focus On Getting Enough Protein
Furthermore, getting enough protein is essential for bulking. Your body uses protein as muscle-building blocks through a metabolic process known as muscle protein synthesis. Most people don’t eat enough protein for optimal muscle building.
How much protein do you need?
There have been many studies on this exact topic. They have found that the optimal amount of protein per day for muscle building is between 0.5 grams to 3.5 grams per kilogram of body weight (one kg is roughly 2.2 pounds).
Generally, you want to consume around 1.2-1.6 grams of protein daily per kg of body weight.
In other words, if you weigh 175 pounds (around 70 kilograms), getting 84-112 grams of protein each day would be a good target. If you can get more, that’s even better. At a certain point, though, you will face diminishing returns.
Don’t Forget the Carbs
While protein is critical for muscle protein synthesis, it’s also essential you get enough carbs. Your body turns carbs into glucose for immediate energy and glycogen for stored energy reserves.
You need this energy to lift heavy weights and build muscle. It also prevents your body from turning to your muscles for energy. However, your body also converts carbs into fat, so it’s important to go easy on the carbs and only eat them in large amounts on days you have heavy workouts.
Go to the Gym Religiously
It’s also critical to go to the gym frequently. You can’t avoid putting in the hard work if you want to see gains – as they say, “no pain, no gain.”
You should go to the gym 5-6 times a week for optimal muscle gain. You can rest a day or two, but don’t overdo it. Many people worry they will overtrain, but the reality is that most people don’t have to worry about that at all.
Life will force rest days onto you – you might get sick, your child might get sick, your car might break down on the way to the gym, or you might have to stay late after work.
Stick to a Good Weight Training Regime
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise each muscle group at least two times a week. For optimal muscle gain, though, consider targeting each group three times a week. Anything more than that is likely overkill, as your muscles need rest to repair themselves and grow in size.
Experts also recommend focusing on one muscle group at a time. A full-body workout can tire out your central nervous system and make it difficult to target each muscle group. For example, squats can be very tiring, leaving you with no energy for back exercises.
There are various training splits that people do. Some of them include the following:
- Upper/lower: Train your upper and lower body on alternating days.
- Push/pull: Do push exercises (such as bench presses) and pull exercises (such as back rows) on alternating days.
- Back/chest/legs: This regime calls for exercising your back, biceps, and shoulders one day, your chest and triceps the next day, and your legs the next day. It’s a three-day training split as opposed to one, allowing you to be more specific in the muscles you target.
If you go to the gym six times a week, a two-day training split allows you to target each muscle group three times a week, with 24 hours of rest. If you do a three-day training split, you’ll only target each muscle group twice a week, but you’ll have time to do additional exercises and will have more rest time.
For example, if you do a three-day training split, you might do five exercises for your back, biceps, and shoulders in a single day:
- Lat pulldowns or rows
- Pullups or chin-ups
- Bicep curls
- Shoulder presses
- Lateral raises
On the other hand, with an upper/lower split, your upper-body day might look like this:
- Bench presses
- Incline bench presses
- Tricep pushdowns
- Shoulder presses
You can only do so much in a single day, and a two-day training split forces you to focus more on compound exercises that work many muscles instead of exercises like bicep curls that concentrate on one muscle in particular.
Aim for 1-3 heavy sets of each exercise, with 12-15 reps per set. That allows for optimal muscle growth. If it seems too easy, start loading heavier weight plates to induce hypertrophy.
If you can’t go to the gym every day, invest in a set of weight plates so you can do your workouts at home.
Go Easy on the Cardio
Cardio is important. Experts say you should get 150 minutes of moderate cardio per week. That can include going on the treadmill, light running, sprinting, or cycling.
Cardio is vital for your heart health and immune system. It also helps you stay in shape and increases endurance.
On the other hand, too much cardio can interfere with your muscle-building goals. You only have so much energy; if you do heavy cardio before your workouts, you won’t have enough power to lift heavy weights.
It’s essential to warm up before your exercises, so do some light cardio. Ten to 15 minutes is ideal. You can do the rest of your cardio on your rest day or after you finish your weight training.
Avoid Dirty Bulking
Finally, avoid dirty bulking. Dirty bulking refers to eating as much as possible, especially fat-heavy and calorie-high foods, to gain weight. Heavy bulkers will go through periods during which they eat lots of fast food, including fried chicken, burgers, and fries.
Some skinny people might fall into this trap. After all, eating as much as possible may seem like the best way to gain weight, especially if you eat a lot of calories. However, these foods are unhealthy and will harm your health in the long run.
Instead, focus on eating lots of calories that matter – protein and carbs – instead of empty calories. You can eat a lot of chicken, tuna, and peanut butter, as those foods are cheap, easily accessible, and have lots of protein.
Protein smoothies are helpful. They contain a lot of protein per serving, especially if you make a smoothie and add egg whites, milk, Greek yogurt, or peanut butter.
It can be hard to bulk up for MMA if you have a small stomach or are naturally skinny. However, it just takes dedication to a strict diet and training regime. Eat lots of protein and carbs and lift heavy weight plates, and you’ll start seeing success.