Posted 21 January 2012 by Phil Learney

The Ultimate

Bulking Guide

The Ultimate Guide To Bulking

'Bulking up’ is a term I'm not overly keen on as it’s generally something done by competitive bodybuilders. Most of us aren't competing and knowing full well that you will gain a load of fat but are prepared after that to follow a prolonged (12-20+ weeks) and VERY strict diet isn’t what most of us want.

This approach has 2 purposes, it means that you’re guaranteed an excess of both good and bad (which when you've been eating chicken and broccoli six times a day for 20 weeks is a nice psychological break) calories. The key being to consume enough nutrients that the maximum amount of energy can be exerted in the gym and the maximum amount of protein can be turned over as new muscle tissue, it’s a very unstructured way to do it but works ok for most.

The trade off as a bodybuilder during this process is that the caloric surplus overflows and a whole heap of body fat is gained as well as the muscle tissue. During the dieting process if done well and intelligently the ratio of fat: muscle loss ends up favorable and a bigger leaner physique is the product! Not always though as muscle loss at some level will always occur with such harsh dieting.

The two hormonal states you will have heard me talk about before are Anabolic (Regenerative) and Catabolic (Degenerative) in muscles case it builds or it wastes it. The balance of these 2 groups of hormones dictates protein turnover and ultimately lean tissue gain.

HOW MUCH can I expect?

Data gathered by the New England Journal of Medicine found that a 69kg sedentary male turns over about 280g of protein daily. About 30% of this is generally what is accepted as ‘muscle protein’. Within the course of a year this person gained and also lost half of his bodyweight in muscle without lifting a weight but the metabolic processes at play meant his net profit was zero (See my ‘MANAGING YOUR LOSSES’ seminar on you tube).

Taking into consideration all metabolic factors and using myself as an example.

At 100kg can potentially create 399g of new muscle tissue a day!!! Studies have shown however the controlled catabolic process of training destroys 80% of the induced anabolism (growth).

If we look at this statistically: My potential results over a year of eating and training perfectly.

Basal (Resting) Protein Synthesis = 50kg
Gains from training = 27.5kg
Total Gain = 77.5kg of muscle.

Tissue lost from Basal Catabolism = 50kg
Tissue lost due to training induced catabolism =22kg
Total Muscle Lost = 72kg

Muscular Gain = 5.5kg


As a side note I still get ‘I want to build muscle but not too much’ an awful lot in consults…I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either.  Now take someone who isn't prepared to stick to a diet as strict and rigid as this for the time it takes (that's 95% of us). We don’t want to be contest ready and we certainly don't want to go through the hell a competitive bodybuilder goes through to get rid of that excess fat. So there are therefore 2 strategies. The one above which is just to relentlessly consume calories or there is a more intelligent approach.

Just to summarize. To build mass effectively we must:

1. Consume an excess of total calories.
2. Increase Anabolic hormones and decrease catabolic hormones.
3. Increase Protein and nutrient turnover.
4. Work on increasing the number of motor units recruited within muscle tissue.
5. Volumize the cells within muscle tissue.

I will put these in a logical order for you to work through.

Dietary and Hormonal Manipulation


Insulin is the master hormone, it governs pretty much every other hormone in some way and management of it is critical if muscular gain or fat loss is your priority.

Insulin has the ability to increase the uptake of protein into cells, as well as increasing anabolic (Building/Regenerative) processes it can also help decrease catabolic (degenerative) processes. To make insulin work for us depends on the individual but fundamentally it involves consuming carbs and protein together. Insulin then under the right environment and at the right levels triggers anabolism and delivers the amino acids for protein synthesis (Muscle adaptation).

Managing Insulin is all about the diet and what we’re looking for is a small spike in most cases, enough to drive those nutrients into tissue, the spike I will talk about later in the article.

The only meal as a note that requires a rapid and high spike in insulin is the post workout. During a workout we have damaged tissue and driven blood sugar down. This needs a reactive spike to bring blood sugar and insulin levels back to baseline and also drive amino acids to repair the damaged cells. Utilizing a post workout carb and protein drink is critical as this speeds up the absorption. Irrelevant of the makeup of an individual I would in almost ALL cases recommend a 2:1 ratio of carbs and protein post workout. This being based on 0.8g/kg and 0.4/kg respectively and on total bodyweight. This strategy also activates the powerful stimulator of muscle growth IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor -1)


The human body is in a constant state of protein turnover. Anything that is cellular is constantly being degradation or breakdown. Insufficient consumption of protein means that the body remains in a state of degeneration stealing amino acids from non-critical to maintain critical function. Protein has a large amount of factors as to its turnover rate, hormones, diet and training to name but a few. When we influence Insulin and any other anabolic hormone positively that number goes UP!


Now the great thing about proteins AND fats is that both of them if required can be converted to glycogen and used as a fuel source. If we fall short of either nutrient however the same cannot be said of Carbs. Our key therefore is to build a diet around an elevated baseline of protein and at minimum a baseline of fats if mass building is our intention. When dieting this protein intake may go up further as the body tends to oxidize amino acids as an energy source.

There have been countless studies on optimal intake but some of the best results have been shown when purely mass building at 1.6-1.8g/lb. of bodyweight. (12)

Quality and Digestibility

We then need to consider the quality of this protein. Protein is determined by two markers the Biological Value (BV) and the protein-digestibility amino acid score (PCDAAS).

Now the issue we have with this table is that a high percentage of Westerners have trouble digesting products with lactose in them. If you cant digest something you CANNOT absorb it.

SO FAR… We have an intake that looks like this assuming an 80kg (176lb) athlete:

PROTEIN (176 x 1.8) 1267 k/cal 316g of Protein coming from high-ranking protein sources.


I’ve covered in a previous article (FORM OVER PERFORMANCE) body types and what a useful tool they are for a basic assessment of dietary requirements. Adjustments will always need to be made however it gives a great start point.

We have three distinct body types characterized by certain traits and dietary considerations. These STILL stand true even when in a mass building phase.


If we refer back to the point about Insulin, an Ectomorph would need a HIGHER % of carbs with more frequent feedings (2-2.5 hrs.) to get a suitable insulin response and to prevent their high Thyroid output metabolizing muscle tissue as fuel. This means that a smaller amount of fats would be used to amass the total calories. Ectomorphs need to manage stress and minimize the use of stimulants if muscle mass is their intention. Pre workouts need to be approached sensibly. Consumption of food is often their biggest challenge.

The hardest part for an Ectomorph or what we 'know' as a hard gainer is the fact that the digestive system is slow and can only deal with a small amount of food at a time. This coupled with the high metabolic rate means the classical ectomorph will lose almost as much tissue in a year as they gain. To get the volume of required nutrients you need to move towards the broken down form of food and supplements more. Liquid such as whey and oils and suitable meal replacement drinks can fill in the gaps for an ectomorph in an easily digestible format. Supplementing with greens supplements when required aswell. The fine line and trial and error here is to keep digestive turnover at an efficient rate.


Mesomorphs remain the athletes of the bunch with a high dominance in anabolic hormones and very efficient metabolic systems. Care still must be taken to ensure optimal composition.


Again with reference to Insulin management an endomorph needs considerably less carbs per feeding than an ectomorph would in order to get a similar insulin response. Endomorphs need to monitor total calories more than Ectomorphs as they will have a tendency to over consume…and what better excuse than ‘I’m in a BULKING PHASE’. They have a lower Thyroid (Essentially the over-eating failsafe) output.

Note: People often ask how I personally turnover tissue on such a low level of carbs? It's because THIS is my natural body type and I need very little carbs to get a suitable Insulin response.

Now if you're not prepared to pay someone to do this for you and you want to do it successfully, guess what you have some homework to do.

Caloric Intake

Using what we have above and the baseline of protein that we determined we have now come to a position that gives us the following for three different body types all at 80kg all intent on building mass.

As you can see the Ectomorph is consuming a larger number of calories due to the faster metabolic rate. The Endomorph due to the lower carb tolerance consumes a lower amount of carbs than the other two types.

If you take the post workout away from these figures you’re left with what should be spread over 6-8 meals in the case of the Ectomorph and 5-6 in the case of both the Meso and Endo. On non-training days hit the calories the same but adjust each meal to account for what the post workout lost.


Lean mass building whilst maintaining a good level of body fat can be done but minor adjustments must be made. If after 7-10 days weight is not increasing positively increase total calories by 150-200 per day. The same can be said if body fat is creeping up either decrease calories or introduce some low level fuel work (Walking, XT etc.) at a controlled level.

It must also be understood that management of Insulin improves the leaner someone gets so in most cases the level of carbs CAN go up as someone get leaner as they manage it better.

– Just two to take note of.

If we refer back to the initial points:

  • Increase Anabolic hormones and decrease catabolic hormones.
  • Increase Protein and nutrient turnover.


The use of BCAAs during training is once again something I will re-iterate, read my past articles for more info but these are a few of the finer points.

• It helps to regulate and promote protein synthesis and reduce degradation.
• It helps with the anabolic/catabolic hormone ratio
• Raises Growth hormone and Insulin during a workout.


It has been shown that there is a worldwide prevalence in Zinc deficiency and also that is plays a large role in modulating testosterone levels.


Now we have a two-pronged attack whilst training. We have one, which will increase Testosterone production, and one that will enhance Growth hormone production. When looking at gaining size it would be wise to incorporate BOTH into your workout plans.

Evidence has shown us that using large compound movements performed with high intensity and a moderate volume will increase serum testosterone levels. Utilizing heavy loads in excess of 85% 1RM with multiple sets/exercises with short rest periods (30-60s).

To increase Growth Hormone levels lower percentages of weights would be used (65-75% 1RM) and higher reps (8-12). This combined with multiple sets will increase lactate production and in response an elevation in Growth Hormone levels.

In both cases utilizing big, multiple joint movements will illicit the greatest response.


Written by: Phil Learney - Facebook Fan Page

The Complete Muscle Building E-Book