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The No-Bull Guide to Bulking

Forget the myths. Here’s the truth about when, what, and how much to eat to build muscle. Hint: It’s less than you think.

How To Bulk Right
Because of the body’s limited muscle-building potential, it makes no sense to bombard it with a great excess of calories. A small surplus is enough. “Eating 200–300 calories above maintenance level will do the trick,” says John Alvino, a nutrition expert and strength coach in Morristown, NJ.

Start by eating 14–18 calories per pound of your body weight, and adjust from there. Consume one gram of protein per pound of your body weight daily, two grams of carbs, and 0.4 grams of fat. In other words, a 180-pound man looking to gain weight would eat between 2,500 and 3,200 calories daily, consisting of approximately 180 grams of protein, 360 grams of carbs, and 70 grams of fat. To make adjustments, tweak your carbs and fat, but keep your protein intake constant.

The fatal mistake bulkers make is eating too much too soon. They may start out following an intelligent diet, but when the scale doesn’t jump five pounds in a week, they assume the program isn’t working and start swallowing everything in sight to see gains—and then they get fat. Of course, it’s true that more calories provide more raw material for muscle, but the body is still capable of building muscle without them. In fact, it’s been shown that muscle growth can occur even while in a caloric deficit.

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An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that subjects who dieted and weight trained for 90 days lost an average of 35 pounds while gaining significant muscle mass. Don’t get too excited, as the subjects were obese women, but it proves that muscle gain isn’t dependent on big eating alone.

“Hypertrophy [muscle growth] is about the training stimulus,” says Miyaki, “and then adequate amounts of protein. Calories and carbs are for providing proper fuel for training and preventing the body from breaking down protein, your muscle tissue, as a reserve fuel. If I had to rank them in order of importance, I’d say hard training comes first, then protein, calories, carbs, and fats.”

Alvino seconds the notion of training over feasting. “The key element to focus on is increasing strength,” he says. Stronger muscles inevitably become bigger muscles, so while you can’t quickly eat your way to 10 extra muscle pounds without storing a lot of fat, you can—eventually—train your way there.

Stick with your eating plan for at least two weeks before making adjustments, and take photos every couple of days to assess your progress. “One of the simplest ways to tell if you’re gaining muscle instead of fat is to measure your waist circumference,” says Miyaki. If your belly is getting bigger, it’s the wrong kind of weight.

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