How To Adjust Your Diet To Successfully Bulk

To Bulk’ – Gain body weight, with the primary goal of gaining muscle.

There is an absence of quality diet advice out there for people trying to bulk. ‘Eat more!’ lacks the detail and finesse to optimize things, ‘Calculate your macros, train hard’ – misses the fundamental point that as we progress, calorie and macronutrient needs change and adjustments are necessary to keep us progressing.

This guide is something that people have been bugging me to write for nearly three years, but truthfully, back then I didn’t feel that I had enough experience to write one without merely parroting things I had read elsewhere and applied to only a handful of clients. I’m glad that I waited, as coaching a lot of people through a bulk is the only way I could find out what stuff matters vs. what doesn’t, and come up with my own way of doing things.

How much more should we eat? Of what macronutrient? Do macros matter? How do I know when I should adjust? How do I minimize fat gain?

This is very detailed because that is how the overwhelming majority of people requested it. – 8000 words and approximate ~35 minute read time. – There is a fair amount of reading up front then, but it will save you months of effort down the line.

I cobbled together 12 ‘graphs’ to try and explain what I am talking about visually. Sincerely, I hope you find it interesting as well as practically helpful when choosing how you wish to bulk and implementing it successfully.


  • Part 1: The Important Factors For Achieving Our Maximal Growth Rate
  • Part 2: How Quickly We Can Expect To Grow
  • Part 3: The Three Ways We Can Bulk – A Detailed ‘How-to’ Guide
  • Part 4: ‘Which Method Should I Choose?’ – Detailed Comparisons

Who this guide is for:

This is an adjustments guide. This is not a Nutrition Set Up Guide or Training Guide, nor will it help you decide whether you should cut or bulk. This is for:

  • Those that have finished their cut and are looking to turn it around into a bulk,
  • Those that are currently bulking but have stopped gaining weight and aren’t sure how to make further changes to keep progressing,
  • Those that have made an initial set-up calculation for their bulk and are wondering what comes next.

Part 1: The Important Factors For Achieving Our Maximal Growth Rate

There is a limit to the amount of muscle mass that we can grow. You will grow the most in your first year of real training, with diminishing returns after that. Here is how that looks on a graph:

Fig. 1: The Path To Maximum Muscular Potential

Path to Maximum Muscular Potential

The red dot represents the point where the maximum muscular potential is reached. The time frame is in years.

So what does this tell us?

  • Each year of training will net us less and less muscle growth in return. (As well as requiring an increasing amount of time and effort – due to increased training volume to force adaptation.)
  • The first few years of real training where we get things right will net us our greatest gains, and take us the furthest way towards our genetic potential. You can look great after just a few years of training.

We Are Not All Born Genetically Equal

Our genetics plays a large part in how well we will respond to training (grow), as well as how much we can grow. Here’s another graph to illustrate that:


The Role of Genetics In Growth Rate and Maximum Muscular Potential

The three lines show people of the same height. The red line is someone of average genetic predisposition, the yellow line someone with good genetics, the green line someone with the best possible genetics. The orange dotted line represents the maximum that is naturally humanly possible for a person of that height.

Genetics for growth appear to be somewhat (not for all individuals, but when comparing populations) related to the starting point. We can see this when comparing growth rates for men and women. When they do the same program, absolute growth for men is higher, but they actually gain the same % of lean mass in relation to their starting lean mass. So, if you take two untrained individuals of the same height, with similar sporting histories, but different starting levels of lean mass, we can expect the bigger guy to grow bigger and more muscled overall. – Pretty much what common sense would tell us anyway.

Do genetics matter then?

Assuming you wish to make the most of your genetic hand, in all practical and applicable senses, no. You must assume that you are one of the genetically elite when you train. The mind has an incredibly powerful effect on the body. (So much so that you can actually give people sugar pills, tell them that they are steroids, and they will grow for a time like they are on steroids. Yes, I shit you not that has actually been studied. 1, 2)

You have to believe in yourself.

• Related article: Unleash Your Inner Super Hero  – Greg Nuckols.

Factors That Determine The Rate We Can Grow

Several factors determine whether we grow muscle as quickly as our genetic potential should allow. Here they are in descending order of importance:

  1. Drug use (or not) / genetics.
  2. Calorie intake.
  3. Appropriate training stimulus to force adaptation.
  4. Sufficient protein intake.
  5. Enough sleep.
  6. Management and minimisation of stress in your life.
  7. Body-fat percentage
  8. Everything else. (Fat-carb macronutrient intake, micronutrients, meal timing & frequency, supplements.)

If you look at the list carefully you’ll see that the top two items on the list – drugs/genetics and calorie intake come ahead of training. What this means is that people can go about their training in a sub-optimal manner, but if they are genetically gifted enough (and/or use a sufficient amount of drugs), and eat enough, they can get away with it. This explains a lot of Youtube, as well as a lot of the stupid advice out there in the fitness industry in general – people that use drugs do not need to pay as much attention to the rest of the factors. Most have decided not to.

1. Drug Use

When you introduce drugs into the training mix, you risk damaging your endocrine system, as well as jail time. This guide is written for you, the natural trainee, as coaching drug-using trainees is not an area I wish to take my career into. [This is not a value judgment.] However, it is worth covering briefly just how vast the effect that drug use can have on things, because it will help you improve your bullshit detector and illustrate why blindly following the advice of someone simply because they are jacked – rather than the quality and authenticity of the information they preach – is not a good idea.

Drug use increases the rate at which people can grow, as well as allows for growth to go well beyond natural limits. This is represented by a dramatic shift upwards and outwards of the curve, green to purple, beyond the orange natural genetic limit line.


How Drugs Affect Growth Potential

How much further past genetic limits can drugs use take people?

This is unknown as it requires very deep pockets (~$100,000 drug bill for Olympia competition prep according to estimates a few years back), cooperative doctors, and big enough balls to push things to the point of liver failure.

Though there are outliers, the best industry estimates of genetic maximum muscular potential of drug-free trainees suggest that the maximum a ‘reasonably genetically blessed’ stage competitor can expect to achieve at a shredded (~5% body fat) bodyweight @5’10 (~178cm), is somewhere between 171-181lbs (~78-82kg), depending on hydration status and glycogen depletion. Phil Heath, the latest Olympia winner, is 5’9 (~175cm) and has a competition weight estimated to be 250lbs (~114kg). That’s ~80lbs above his theoretical genetic limit.

For completeness, I should mention that genetics also influence how well people respond to drug use. – Six-time Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates for example, who was a very undersized natty guy, got enormous when he started using, in spite of taking pretty low doses his whole career (relative to his competition).

• Related article: Maximum Genetic Muscular Potential – The Models And Their Limitations 

[Note: From here on, for the sake of simplicity, we will assume that everyone has a genetic muscle-gain potential equal to the green curve.]

2. Calorie Intake

Failure to eat enough is top of the list for places where people go wrong when bulking. We cannot make something out of nothing.

Muscle growth cannot be optimized in a calorie deficit, however, at higher levels of body fat, our body can be in a calorie deficit and still build muscle. That is because your body will use the fat stores to fuel itself. As we get leaner this process becomes more difficult, and getting factors 3-7+ right becomes increasingly important. Eventually, we will stop gaining any more muscle mass regardless of what we do. Here is how that looks on a graph:


How Insufficient Calorie Intake Limits Muscle Growth Over Time

Notice how genetic potential is still represented by the green dot, but it is never reached in this scenario.

Tracking Trumps Calculations

If you are stuck, not gaining muscle and your weight is not steadily increasing over the weeks, you need to eat more. It does not matter what your calculations said should happen:

  • You may have miscalculated,
  • you may be miscounting your food intake,
  • you might be a high NEAT responder,
  • you may have eaten your way up to a new set point.

The body has mechanisms for dealing with a calorie surplus in order to minimize weight gain. While admittedly, these mechanisms are not as powerful as those for dealing with a calorie deficit (historically we were far less likely to eat ourselves to death than starve to death) they are still present and do not lend themselves well to a calculation.

Calculations are a ‘best guess’. Tracking trumps calculations, and we need to adjust based on the reality of the situation, not what the math said would happen. – This is an absolutely fundamental point when moving forward.

• Related article: Coaching Lessons #4 – Tracking Trumps Calculations

3. Appropriate Training Stimulus To Force Adaptation

It should go without saying that if you do not have sufficient training stimulus to force adaptations, then you will not grow muscle. The majority of the calorie surplus will be stored as fat. See my article, The Core Principles of Effective Training for more on this.

4. Sufficient Protein Intake

You need to have a sufficient level of protein intake for tissue repair and growth. Insufficient protein intake will hamper your gains. See my protein intake guidelines here.

5/6. Enough Sleep, Management Of Stress

Insufficient sleep and a high level of stress will hamper recovery from your workouts and your growth. The more advanced we get with our training; the more stress we are able to put on our bodies, and thus this comes of increasing importance as we progress. Before I take a coaching applicant on as a client I check to see that these elements are on point first, if not then I decline to take them on. Please take your sleep and stress management seriously, as it will flatten the curve and shift it down and towards the right.

• Related article: Stress: In The Gym, Out of The Gym, and How it Affects Your Program and Progress

7. Body-fat Percentage

The leaner we are; the more of the weight that we gain has potential to be muscle. There are calorie partitioning benefits to being leaner. The chronic low-grade inflammation associated with obesity decreases the anabolic and increases catabolic signaling in the muscles themselves.

If we start at 10-12% body fat for example, then the majority of the weight gain can be muscle. However, if we start bulking at 20%+ then the majority of that will probably be fat tissue. So, by starting our bulk while we are fairly lean, we can bulk for longer and it will be of a higher quality (a greater proportion of the mass gain will be muscle tissue).

8. Everything Else (Fat-carb macronutrient intake, micronutrients, meal timing & frequency, supplements.)

The importance of each increase as we advance with our training and get closer to our genetic potential. See my full diet set-up guide for more on this.

Part 2: How Quickly We Can Expect To Grow

So we know that our level of training advancement determines our rate of muscle growth potential, which decreases with experience. (Contrast this to when we have a fat-loss goal: body-fat percentage determines how quickly we can lose fat and has nothing to do with training experience.)

By categorizing our training advancement, we can get a reasonable estimate of the amount of muscle we can hope/expect to gain per month, which becomes very useful when setting calorie intake and body weight gain targets.

Classifying your training experience/status is a sticky area, but fortunately, some smart guys have done this hard work for us. Lyle McDonald does it by ‘years of proper training‘, Alan Aragon, Martin Berkhan, and Eric Helms go by BeginnerIntermediate, and Advanced categorisations.

  • If you’re a lifter that has been focused on gaining strength in the barbell movements or has put those movements at the core of your workouts, then you can determine your training status fairly objectively using Martin’s guidelines here, section Progress and Goals.
  • If not, check out Lyle’s guidelines here.

Here is a rough breakdown of the rate of growth you can expect based on these classifications if you do everything right:

Muscle Growth Potential

Training Status  |  Gains/month

Beginner/Novice  |  2-3lbs / 0.9-1.2kg

Intermediate  | 1-2lbs / 0.45-0.9kg

Advanced  |  0.5lbs 0.22kg


  • Taller people will want to go with the higher end of the range.
  • Novice trainees that are very well muscled already (through a life of sports perhaps or manual labor job) will probably be best to consider their growth potentials as that of the intermediate trainee.

Part 3: The Three Ways We Can Bulk – A Detailed ‘How-to’ Guide

3 ways to bulk and how to do it right

I see there as being three legitimate ways to successfully bulk:

  1. Relaxed bulk – This is bulking without counting calories or macros. This is sometimes known as a “dirty bulk.”
  2. Controlled bulk (slow bulk) – maximize the rate of muscle gain, without gaining an unnecessary amount of fat,
  3. Aim For Lean Gains – maintain maximal levels of leanness while adding muscle.

The underlying assumption is that whether for appearance or athletic reasons, our goal is to build a more muscled version of ourselves, without any additional fat. Thus, we might be willing to trade off some fat gain in the short term for a faster rate of progress overall. You might not, but if you do choose a method where you gain fat, you’ll cut later.

1. The Relaxed Bulk

relaxed bulk guidelines

‘Relaxed bulking’ is bulking without counting calories or macros. Fat gain will be higher than with the other methods, but you choose not to care due to the ease of it. The rate of muscle growth can be maximized as long as you eat enough.

A relaxed bulk should not be confused with a dream bulk – where people simply eat their faces off, gaining an enormous amount of weight and believing it to be mostly muscle. In contrast, when we use this relaxed bulk method we remain conscious of our maximal rates of muscle growth potential.


Fig 5. The Changes in Muscle And Fat Mass Over Time With The Relaxed Bulk Method


Eat plenty. As you’re not tracking macros, calorie partitioning (how much energy is used for recovery and muscle growth vs. how much is just stored as fat) is not going to be optimal. This means that more fat will be gained per pound of muscle gained during the bulk phase than with either of the other methods.

Given that it is pretty much impossible (in my opinion) for us to consistently and accurately track how much of the weight that we gain is muscle vs. fat, the best thing to do is to chase a bodyweight gain target. I would suggest targeting 100-150% over your maximum muscular gain potential per month. The higher end of the range, i.e. setting your bodyweight gain target at 2.5x your maximum genetic growth rate potential, is most likely to give you your maximum, as this way you ensure that you aren’t consuming too little of the stuff your body needs, hampering recovery and growth.

It would be best to be at least minimally conscious of your protein intake though so that you don’t undercut your efforts by consuming too little. (This will affect your growth in a way similar to figure 4, but less extreme.)


  • You are a tall, novice trainee? Aim to gain 7.5lbs per month while crushing it at the gym.
  • You are an intermediate trainee, average height? Aim to gain 2.5 lbs per month while crushing it at the gym.

If you gain more than this, reduce your food intake. If you gain less than the target, increase your food intake. If you find yourself struggling to auto-regulate like this without counting, then consider starting to count. – This leads us on to method two, the controlled bulk.

2. The Controlled Bulk / Slow Bulk

how to bulk using controlled method

Controlled bulking is bulking by making controlled and systematic calorie and macro increases, with the aim of achieving our maximal rate of muscle gain, but without gaining an unnecessary amount of fat. Of the three methods we’re covering in this article, this is the one that I find myself recommending most often to clients.


Fig 6. The Changes in Muscle And Fat Mass Over Time With The Slow Bulk Method


Again, we can’t consistently and effectively track how much of the weight that we gain is muscle vs. fat, so we are best to set a weight-gain target based on our monthly growth potential.

Fat gain is unavoidable when attempting to gain muscle at a maximal rate because a calorie surplus beyond what is needed for muscle growth alone is required. (I believe this is because this keeps our hormonal balance in favor of maximal muscle growth. However, as we are counting our macros and setting them at levels that make sense for growth and recovery, calorie partitioning will be much better than with the relaxed bulk method. Thus, we should set our monthly body weight gain target at a lower rate than with the relaxed bulk, but still above growth potential. How much over? 75-100% is my recommendation. We’ll go with the latter in the examples below for simplicity.


Step 1: The Calorie Math – A Start Point But Nothing More

Calculate → Track → Fine Tune → Track → Fine Tune → Track → …

The rest of this guide assumes that you have calculated your macros and have been tracking your progress over a few weeks minimum. If you have been doing this you know your average rate of weight change over the last few weeks. This covers the ‘fine tuning’ part of things.

The need for adjustments is inevitable because of the individual variance in metabolic response to calorie surplus (and deficit) conditions. Here’s why:

After dieting when we come back around to maintenance calorie intake we can eat more than just the energy equivalent of our weekly fat-loss rate, as our hormones come back into balance and metabolisms speed back up to normal. When we bulk we experience less weight gain than calculated because we start fidgeting more throughout the day – the body’s attempt to keep us from gaining weight. This is called NEAT variance, and unfortunately, it’s highly individual. This latter part explains the ‘hard gainer’ phenomenon – people that swear they can’t gain weight or muscle mass – they are just very high NEAT responders.

^ We can’t calculate these things with any real degree of accuracy. So we will start with a calculation that assumes you have none of these changes to deal with, and then work up from there based on how the scale weight changes over time.

• Related article: How Do I Find Maintenance Calorie Intake After Dieting?

The Important Numbers (and where they come from): 

In the examples, we’ll consider the case of the guy that has been bulking but has stopped making progress, and the case of the dieter that has just finished cutting and is looking to start a bulk.

Here are the important numbers we need to make our calculations:

→ It takes roughly ~2500kCal to synthesize a pound of muscle. (~5500kCal/kg)
→ It takes roughly ~3500kCal to burn or store a pound of fat. (~7700kCal/kg)

Therefore, if we wish to gain 1lb of muscle per month, and we’re setting our body weight gain target at 100% over that (so 2lbs), we will need an approximate 6000kCal monthly increase in calorie intake (1*2500 + 1*3500), which is approximately 200kCal per day.

→ For a 1lb increase in muscle mass per month, target 2lbs of weight gain, so increase daily intake by 200kCal.


Theory For Fellow Geeks (feel free to skip)

Where do those 2500kCal, 3500kCal and 200kCal numbers come from?

A pound of muscle by itself is only 600-800kcal (protein + glycogen + trace intramuscular adipose tissue). But when you go through the metabolic processes to synthesize 600-800kcal of muscle protein, those processes themselves consume an extra 1500-2000kcal. That’s 2100-2800kCal total. Furthermore, let’s say you’re glycogen super-compensated and well-hydrated. That makes your muscles themselves slightly larger and less dense. – Fewer calories per pound.

Fat takes 3000-3500kCal to burn or store. But let’s say you have small adipocytes (fat cells) – after being obese and dieting for example – with more organelles and smaller fat droplets (less fat per unit volume). – Fewer calories per pound.

So we’ll just use 2500kCal for muscle and 3500kCal for fat, as that is in the right range and makes the math easy. Cool? Good.


Example Calculations:

  • Tall, lean novice trainee, currently not gaining or losing any weight. This means that you are at approximately maintenance calories. According to our Muscle Growth Potential chart, a reasonable goal is to gain 3lbs of muscle per month, so increase your calorie intake by 600kCal per day. (3lbs*200kCal)
  • Intermediate trainee, average height, finished his cut to shreds, recently losing 0.75lbs per week. This means you are currently in an approximate 375kCal daily deficit [(0.75*3500)/7]. According to our Muscle Growth Potential chart, a reasonable goal is to gain 1.5lbs of muscle per month, so increase your calorie intake by 675kCal per day. (375 + 1.5*200). [Metabolic slowdown can’t be /hasn’t been calculated, so this will be adjusted for in a few weeks based on progress.]


Ben Carpenter - Controlled Bulk, Slow Bulk

UK-based personal trainer Ben Carpenter’s ‘Slow Bulk’. ~20lb gain in body weight – some of which will simply be from the glycogen & water regain aside from the muscle & fat mass increases.

Step 2: Macros – Keep Protein The Same, Increase Your Carbs and Fats

So this brings us on the macronutrients – how much of each should we increase to reach these new calorie requirements?


You already have your protein numbers set. A 2lb increase of muscle per month technically requires a ~2g increase in protein intake per month, according to our initial calculations. That is a minor amount and I don’t think it’s worth adjusting for. This is especially true for those not counting the trace proteins in their carb intake – pasta, rice, bread – as this will increase over time as you progress with the bulk. (This is what I recommend to clients for simplicity – free guide here.)

If you have been dieting, your protein intake will have been set a little higher than what is technically required for a bulk, so you could reduce protein intake and put it towards some carb or fat increases if you wish. But the difference is small (~20% at the extreme end) that unless you’re on a very tight budget I question whether it’s worth bothering here also. Your choice here.

You can use protein if you wish, but that can get expensive quite quickly. The increase in caloric intake will come from fat and carbs then.

Fats and Carbs – Increase In What Ratio Then?

Which brings us to the question of how to split these increases. Now, if I look back through the data with clients, what seems to have worked best on average is something like an approximate 70-30 calorie split in favor of carbs. That is not something I calculated then decided to test, it is just something I found myself gravitating towards when making increases to clients at the check-in points because it worked so well.

Feel free to plus or minus that 10% either side based on personal preference for a higher carb or fat intake. (i.e. 60-40 or 80-20 will be fine.)

Don’t skew your fat intake so that it is below 20% of your daily calorie intake – it’s tough to implement as it leads to a tasteless and restricted diet, plus it’s not great hormonally as you need a certain level of fat in your diet to maintain regular hormonal functioning, something in the ~0.4-0.6/lb LBM (0.9-1.3g/kg) range. Obviously then if you have huge calorie needs due to your job or other sports you can break this rule.

I haven’t taken fat intake past 40% of total calories with clients when they are bulking, so I can’t tell you how effective that will be. And as these guidelines are based on what I have done with clients rather than theory, I’ll leave this here.

Example Calculations:

  • Our novice trainee needs a 600kCal increase per day. He likes carby foods so he’ll skew the increases based on that preference to 75% carbs, 25% fats. This gives him a daily increase of ~15g fat, 115g carbs.
  • Our intermediate trainee needs a 675kCal increase per day. As he’s been dieting, fat intake has probably had to be cut down to the lower end of the recommended range which pushes him into territory where regular hormonal function and testosterone production is affected. So, we want to make an immediate and significant increase to fat intake. However, we don’t want to skew this too much in favor of the fat increases, as carb intake will have been reduced drastically also, and we want to increase these to help fuel us through our workouts (and hopefully new PRs) as well as make life taste better. Thus, I’d recommend he split this calorie increase 35/65 between fats and carbs respectively. This gives him a daily increase of ~25g fat, 110g carbs.

(Notice that I have rounded the numbers in each case to the nearest 5g for simplicity.)

A Note On Alcohol

Alcohol has calories that will need to be accounted for in your calorie budget. They’re empty calories, meaning they can fuel you, but they aren’t going to cause the growth and repair that we want. So, by all means, please feel free to add some beers into your diet now that you have a higher calorie budget (by reducing carb and fat intake), but don’t abuse it.

Step 3: For Those That Are Calorie / Macro Cycling

This is how I usually set things up with clients – skewing calorie intake so that people eat more on their training days than rest days, with more carbs on those training days and decreased fat. I do this in an effort to improve calorie partitioning, which is theoretical and questionable, but something I’ve found to work well without adding too much complication.


It makes sense that on the days we expend more energy, we eat more.

Carbs fuel our workouts and aid in glycogen repletion (minor points for the non-athlete) and are necessary for recovery and growth. Fat is more easily stored on the days with excess calorie intake. So, if we reduce fat intake on the training days and increase carbs to make up for it, we may be able to limit fat accumulation as well as improve recovery and growth. (An improvement in calorie partitioning.)

We would then, of course, have to increase fat intake and reduce carb intake on the rest days to keep our daily averages in the right range.


Adding complication to your diet and training comes with diminishing returns as you work your way down the order of importance. Recall that list of seven things we had under “Factors That Determine The Rate We Can Grow.” Let me re-label this list “Factors That Determine Whether Your Gains Are Muscle Or Fat”. If we extend it we have:

7. Macronutrient intake (fat-carb ratio)

8. Your level of leanness (this affects calorie partitioning).

9. Micronutrients

10. Meal timing & frequency

11. Calorie & macro cycling

12. Supplements

So you can see that by this point the returns to additional complication are small, but with the cost of increasing difficulty of implementation and adherence to your diet. Therefore, as we already have our calories higher on the training days than the rest days, I suggest that we leave the calorie split as it is and just increase the same number of calories on each day.

As for the carbs and fats, you can skew those a little either way if you wish.

Example Calculations:

  • Our novice trainee is making a daily increase of ~15g fat, 115g carbs. He could split it: T-days: +5g fat, +135g carbs, R-days: +25g fat, +95g carbs.
  • Our intermediate trainee is making a daily increase of ~25g fat, 110g carbs. T-days: +10g fat, +145g carbs, R-days: +40g fat, +75g carbs.

Objection: But that doesn’t work as we don’t have the exact same number of training and rest days per week.

– Sure, you might be working out 3 days a week leaving you 4 days of rest, or 4 days a week leaving you 3 days of rest, but this won’t affect things to a great extent, and the math doesn’t need to be exact anyway, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

Objection: Ah, but I train 2 days a week / 5+ days a week and that will skew the fat-carb balance.

– Do some math then buddy; you can’t expect me to spoon feed you everything.

Step 4: Further Fine Tuning

…Track Progress → Fine Tune → Track Progress → Fine Tune

You will need to adjust at some point to keep yourself on track with your weight-gain target. That’s going to happen sooner for some than others due to the inter-individual metabolic differences already discussed.

Practical Application – Be Precise But Not Over-Analytical

For the novice and intermediate trainees, realistically speaking, the minimum it’s worth making an adjustment for is when the scale weight change is at least half a pound (~0.23kg) off your target average per week. If your average daily weight at the end of each of the last 2-4 weeks has not increased as per your target, make an increase. (The best way to do that is to weigh yourself each morning, upon waking but after emptying your bladder, and note your average weight at the end of the week.)

To get back on target will require a 200kCal daily calorie intake increase. Which for the sake of simplicity we might want to consider to be a daily increase of 10g of fat, 25-30g of carbs, regardless of whether it is a training day or rest day. (Though you may skew it one way or the other as per preference, taking into account the theory of the last section.)

Of our two example guys, the man that has been dieting is likely to be the first one that needs to make an adjustment – this is because our calculations couldn’t/didn’t account for the metabolic slowdown.

Detailed Examples – Putting that together

I think the steps above are pretty clear already, but I’m going to put this together with example numbers just so there can’t be any misunderstandings.

Our Tall, Lean Novice Trainee – First Serious Bulk 

Training Schedule  |  Initial Calculation  |  First Adjust.  |  Second Adjust.

T-Day (p/c/f) |  160/370/60   |  160/505/65  |  160/535/75

R-Day (p/c/f)  |  180/120/110   |  160/215/135  |  160/245/145


  • The beginner trainee just follows the guidelines above as planned.


Our Intermediate Trainee, Bulking After Having Dieted To Shreds

Training Schedule  |  Macros @Diet End  |  First Adjust.  |  Second Adjust.

T-Day (p/c/f) |  170/200/50   |  170/345/60  |  170/380/65

R-Day (p/c/f)  |  190/50/80   |  190/125/120  |  190/155/130


  • For the second adjustment, the intermediate trainee chooses to increase the fat intake by 5g less on the training day so that he can have more carbs. (Our man has been missing his carbs.) Fair enough.



3. Aim for Lean Gains

Aiming for lean gains is bulking in a way that allows maintenance of maximal levels of leanness while adding muscle. This is achieved by making increases to calorie and macro intake only enough to allow progressions with our training (indicating muscle gain).

We know that we cannot maximize muscle growth rate with this method, but we can’t say for sure what percentage of the maximal growth rate we can achieve on average. I suspect half, but I know it will be highly individual. This comes back to, in large part, our genetic differences determining how well we partition calories.

What this means is that we will gain weight at less than 1/3 the rate of body weight change as compared with the first two methods. For this reason, it requires a lot more patience as the changes are far more subtle, and in the short term you may not be able to measure them. This requires faith in the principle that if you are progressing with your training, then you are gaining muscle, but most people cannot do this without losing their minds.

This style is only really suitable for experienced trainees, that place a premium on maximal leanness, and are very confident that they know what they are doing with their training and diet. This is something that the professional figure model needs to do to stay employed.

From my point of view as a coach, this does not lend itself well to short-term coaching periods because the changes are often too subtle to keep people motivated and feel value for their money. Reasons for this will become evident when we get to the comparison graphs section below.


Fig 7. The Changes in Muscle And Fat Mass Over Time With The Lean Gain Method


You need to start from a shredded state to use this method. This is because you will be using a combination of the mirror, stomach measurements, and body fat calipers (the only time I will recommend these) to gauge whether you have gained fat or muscle.

If you have been dieting (which you probably will have) then:

  1. Find maintenance calorie intake as per the math used in the previous section. Add that back into your diet.
  2. Make small increases (100-200kCal increments, scaling with body size) to daily calorie intake when your training fails to progress.

If you haven’t been dieting and are currently at a stable body weight then just skip ‘1’. If you are currently gaining weight at more than the expected rate of muscle growth, then consider cutting back calorie intake slightly.


Advanced-Intermediate Trainee shredded 7% body fat. He has just finished dieting and was losing 0.5lb (0.23kg) per week.

  • He needs to make a 250kCal increase (0.5*3500/7) to his macro intake to bring himself back up to calculated maintenance. (This will not be full maintenance caloric intake due to the metabolic slowdown experienced when dieting, but it’s a good start point.)
  • He’s going to make this increase from a mix of carbs and fats, choosing to increase carbs by 50g and fats 5g on the training days, carbs by 15g and fats 20g on the rest days. (T-day: +50c, +5f, R-day: +15c, +20f)
  • He waits and tracks things over a couple of weeks. He feels more energetic in the gym, training starts improving, but sees that his weight is still dropping slightly, so he makes another increase, this time, 200kCal. He chooses to split that as follows, T-day: +50c, R-day: +25c, +10f.
  • He waits and tracks things over a couple of weeks. Strength is now improving. Weight has come up by a couple of pounds! Fat? Mirror definition and body fat caliper measurements tell him that there is no fat gain. So this is glycogen and water weight increases, due to the increase in carb intake. – No change is made to the macros.
  • Two weeks later training progression stalls despite everything else being on point. Body-fat is unchanged. He makes another increase, T-day: +50c, R-day: +25c, +10f.
  • Training keeps progressing. Weight comes up again, but no indications of fat gain.
  • Training stalls a couple of weeks later so he makes another incremental increase to the macros.
  • Two weeks later, training is progressing nicely, but it looks like the stomach measurements have come up. Fat gain? Mirror and caliper measurements don’t agree. It’s probably a measurement error or just some thickening of the mid-section (abs, obliques, and lower back are bigger and stronger).
  • Etc. The trainee keeps on making fine tune adjustments to their macros to keep progressing with their training without any fat gain.

Adjust → Track → Incremental Addition → Track → Fine Tune → Track → Fine Tune, etc.

Part 4: ‘Which Method Should I Choose?’ – Detailed Comparisons

The Importance of Starting Your Bulk When You Are Lean

In the following comparison section, we are comparing the methods from the same starting level of leanness. However, if the start point is different, the outcomes will be also. This is because body fat level has a large impact on calorie partitioning ability.

There’s good evidence suggesting that even on a relaxed bulk you’ll gain mostly lean mass initially if you’re lean to start with, and conversely, even on a controlled bulk/ slow bulk, you’ll gain a lower % of muscle if you start with a higher bf%. This is because in general, the fatter we get, the poorer calorie partitioning becomes, meaning that the energy we consume has a tendency towards fat storage instead of muscle growth.

To put that another way: if we sleep right, eat right, and work our asses off in the gym to gain 10lbs of body weight, more of that will be muscle if we start from a shredded condition (~7% body fat) than if we start when we are fatter (~15+%).

• Related article: Calorie Partitioning – Part 1 – Lyle McDonald

Which Method Should I Choose?

You need to pick a method based on your effort-reward preference – one that you can be consistent with – and that will come down to the tug of your social life vs. satisfaction derived from staying lean or seeing progress.

Results that each method gives will depend on the situation and how you use them.

First, we start with a graphical comparison of the bulk phases alone. Second, I show what happens when there is a sudden deadline to get shredded. Third, what happens when there is no deadline to get shredded. Fourth, what happens when people fix their bulking time period (typically for the colder months). Finally, a longer-term look at what happens when people fix their bulking periods based on an upper limit to body fat percentage (or stomach measurement).

Weight-class competitors that compete often, models and some actors will choose one of the latter two methods (slow-bulk or lean gain) out of necessity as they need to remain lean enough to be ready for competition at short notice. Everyone else is free to choose based on what I show you here.

1. The Bulk Phase

Imagine three identical triplets decide to do each of the three methods. They are all starting from the same ‘shredded’ level of leanness. Here is how a 28-week bulk phase would look:


Bulk Types Comparison - Bulk Stage

By the end of the bulk at the 28-week mark, the relaxed and slow bulk methods have resulted in the same amount of total muscle gain and are clearly ahead of the lean gains method.

However, looking at this 28-week snapshot is a false comparison – unless our start position was skin and bones (think of Christian Bale in The Machinist) we are going to want to lose the fat that has been gained after we have bulked. So, let’s extend the time frame to include the cut phase, and see what happens to our three identical triplets.

Muscle Mass Increases: Slow bulk > Relaxed bulk > Lean gains.

2. Sudden Deadline To Get Shredded

In this first example, we assume that there is a sudden deadline (competition or photo shoot) set for our guys on week 36. They all start their cut at the same time point, week 28. They have to get back down to baseline leanness – that shredded state they had before – or they lose their jobs, sponsorship, etc.. Here is how that would look:


Cut Comparison - Sudden Week 36 Deadline


  • The slow bulk guy has time to get back down to base-level leanness with minimal lean mass losses.
  • The relaxed bulk guy has to rush his cut; he loses more and more lean mass as the weeks progress. This happens because he has to force his body to lose fat at a rate higher than it can do so without catabolizing muscle mass.
  • The lean gains guy does not need to cut; he continues to gain mass very steadily.

Net Muscle Mass Increases: Slow bulk > Lean gains > Relaxed bulk.

3. Deadline To Get Shredded Known Well In Advance

Alright, so you’re going to call me out on the previous example and say that this doesn’t apply to most people, that people will not rush their cut and lose muscle mass. I’d argue that the majority of people make this mistake (setting false deadlines for themselves and wasting their hard earned gains), but we, being educated about these things, are not them. Fair enough.

So, let’s say you have a deadline a long way in advance – a long beach holiday for example – and you want to look your best by that point. Here’s how that would look:



  • The situation isn’t changed from the previous example for either the slow bulk or lean gains guy. The former can cut at the same time; the latter can continue ‘lean gaining’ till his holiday.
  • The relaxed bulk guy has to start his cut much earlier, this time, his bulk phase is shorter, and the net result is less overall muscle mass increase for this 36-week bulk-cut period compared with the slow-bulk guy. But a greater overall gain than the lean gains guy.

Net Muscle Mass Increases: Slow bulk > Relaxed bulk > Lean gains.

4. Fixed Bulking Time Period – Vague Notion Of Getting ‘Ripped’ For Summer

Ok, so let’s say that there is no deadline to get shredded, and both the slow bulk and relaxed bulk methods start their cut at the same time. Now, before you hammer me for being nonsensical, I’d point out that this is what most people do: bulk for the majority of the year and then cut for the summer period, starting the same time each year (usually May), irrespective of how much body fat they are carrying. This is because they don’t want to compromise their ‘off-season’ bulk time frame, and is usually accompanied by complaints that they never seem to be able to get shredded in time for summer.

Here’s how that looks assuming they don’t rush the cut (i.e. push the fat-loss rate past maximal theoretical limits):



  • The lean gains guy does not need to cut; he can continue to grow throughout summer gradually.
  • It takes the relaxed bulk guy until the end of summer to get to maximal leanness, but he feels far too fat at the start and this affects his enjoyment at the beach, possibly choosing not to go for the first month of summer. (He’s highly self-conscious and hasn’t figured out that people care far more about the content of your character than physical appearance. – Yes, I realize the irony of this statement given what I do.)
  • The slow bulk guy gets to maximal leanness by early-mid summer and can seek to maintain that condition, or move on into a slow-bulk phase. If the slow bulk phase is started immediately upon hitting maximal leanness (as depicted in the graph above) there will be a small amount of fat regain, but arguably low enough to remain in good beach condition before the end of the summer. This is worth considering if you wish to maximize your gains in the coming year as it will give you a longer bulking period.

Net Muscle Mass Increases: Slow bulk > Relaxed bulk > Lean gains.

5. Bulk Ends When Upper Limit To Body-fat Percentage (or Stomach Measurement) Is Reached

You wish to bulk but don’t want to go past a certain level of body fat so that you can stay in year-round good condition. This way you will feel comfortable taking your shirt off at any time, and will not get so fat that calorie partitioning becomes poor.

Let’s call this 15% body fat – a level where with enough muscle mass you will still look good. (15% body fat when you are weak and carry very little muscle doesn’t.) You will bulk until you hit 15% and then start your cut. Thus, to the outsider, you will always look somewhere between good condition and great condition.

The problem is the difficulty in assessing body fat percentage accurately. There are flaws with all* the methods that we have available for measuring it, both concerning accuracy and consistency. Thus, instead of targeting a body-fat percentage point that we can’t measure accurately or objectively, I’d recommend that you set yourself a maximal stomach circumference measurement. Take into account that it is likely you will have some muscle growth there (thickening of the lower back, obliques, and abs) compared with your previous cut-bulk cycle. (*The only exception to this would be if you are an experienced user of body fat calipers, or have someone available to do it that knows what they are doing.)

So, if you are an intermediate trainee, and the last time you cut you felt that the fattest you’d want to get when you bulked the next time was when your stomach measurement reached 80cm, perhaps set 82cm as your maximum for this round of bulking. This will allow for those abdominal, oblique, and lower back gains).

Here’s how setting a stomach circumference/body-fat percentage cap to our three different methods of bulking looks over a longer period:



  • There is no change with the lean gains method. With no cutting period, gains can be made throughout.
  • The slow bulk method allows us to have longer bulk periods, and more time spent growing overall which leads to greater muscle mass increases in the same overall time frame. The 15% body fat limit doesn’t change anything as we never got excessively fat in the first place.
  • With the relaxed bulk method, muscle mass is gained at the same rate as the slow bulk, but due to the higher level of fat gain, the cut phase has to start sooner. Thus the overall time spend bulking is shorter and thus less muscle mass gained.

Over longer time periods (in the above we have 68 weeks) the slow bulk guy makes more progress towards their maximum muscular potential than other two methods.

Note how the lean gains approach is not far behind the relaxed bulk in terms of growth over longer time frames in this situation. However, I just want to emphasize – due to the patience that it requires and the subtlety of the changes people often lose their minds before being successful with the lean gains method of bulking.

Thus, with the exclusion of special populations, when it comes to client work I find myself recommending and guiding people through controlled/slow bulks.

Long-Term Net Muscle Mass Increases: Slow bulk > Relaxed bulk > Lean gains.

Purposeful Simplifications

Two key things have been purposefully ignored to simplify the above models as I didn’t feel it affects our comparisons in any significant way.

1. As muscle growth rate potential decreases with training advancement the muscle growth rate lines should have a slight downwards curve over time to represent the decreasing rate of muscle growth as we advance with our training rather than be straight.

2. As calorie partitioning ability changes with body-fat percentage, the fat gain lines should curve slightly upwards for the relaxed bulk method if we are to achieve maximal rates of muscle growth still.

Anticipated Questions

What about food types? What about meal timing? What about supplements?

These things are covered in my initial set-up guide: ‘The Complete Guide To Setting Up Your Diet’.

What about training?

muscle and strength pyramid books

There is a lot of nonsense surrounding training for both bodybuilders and strength athletes. As a coach, I can only afford to care about methods that work. In my book with Eric Helms and Andrea Valdez, we’ve broken the factors that truly matter when making strength and hypertrophy-focussed training programs, into a clear order of importance. Then building on that theory, you’ll find six programs for novice, intermediate, and advanced-level bodybuilders and strength-focussed athletes. You can choose one and then tailor it to yourself using the principles learned in the book. Full progression examples are included so you’ll never get stuck wondering what to do next.  Grab your copy of ‘The Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid.’

What about when cutting?

The Last Shred Different Device Display Demo v3 PNG

If you’d like to get access to my full breakdown on how I adjust the diets of my clients to take them to shreds and how you can do that too, check out my book on the subject, ‘The Last Shred.’


Thanks for reading.
Questions welcomed in the comments as always. – Andy. 

Share this on Facebook & join in the conversation

Be the next success story:

Find out more about coaching >
About the Author

Andy Morgan

I am the founder of, this is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing online, via email, for the last six years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation.

248 Comments on “How To Adjust Your Diet To Successfully Bulk”

  1. Alan says:


    I am coming to the end of cutting and going to start building muscle, I am just under 20% bodyfat and eating around 1725 kcals I was targeting 1.5lb fat loss. My aim to target 2lb gain, 4lb overall and was wondering how I should transition to bulking?

    Would I add 750 kcals to take me upto maintenance track my weight for 1-2 weeks then slowly add additional 400 kcals per day to account for the 4lb weight gain?

    I feel I may be missing something so let me know


    1. Hi Alan. Come to calorie maintenance first, then bulk. Guide for that here:
      How Do I Find Maintenance Calorie Intake After Dieting?

  2. Edoardo says:

    Hi Andy, first of all let me say that the website and the books are amazing.

    The question:
    At what bf % should you stop bulking?
    And then is it better to cut at 10% bf ? (I am okay at 10% don’t need to go below this %)
    Or would it be better to do a mini cut at 12% and continue bulking?

    I have not so much problem cutting but bulking seems a big problem for me..

    I started lifting after 30 and I was in the skinny fat category.. I am tall 178 cm..

    Last september I started from 11% bf 145 lbs and now ended 158 lbs 16% bf progressing on my lifts.
    But continuing bulking from 16% is not a good idea as you said..

    Thank you in advance

    1. Edoardo, thank you for the compliments and the questions. Very happy to read that.

      – 15-20% is the realistic range, depending on preferences.
      – Somewhere around that range yes.
      – If you wish to continue bulking, then sure.
      – Sounds to me that you had a problem bulking, but you’ve now fixed it. Congratulations on your progress.

  3. Michail Diamantopoulos says:

    Yo Andy,

    Lets say some1 finds that he needs 200kcal every 10 days for (what he would consider) ideal gain rate.
    Wouldnt it much better in terms of muscle/fat storage partitioning splitting this calories to a 20calorie increase every single day? The way I think about it is the following. When you bulk & you hit maintenance & its time to increase you bump 200kcal. These calories are gonna be storred (muscle fat in whatever ratio aint matter) in 1-2days time. They are not gonna be around in the body for long I guess. Am I missing something?
    Thanks for reading,

    1. Hi Michail, thanks for the question.

      Am I missing something?
      – Yes. I don’t know of any evidence (empirical or lab research) to suggest that creeping calorie intake up like that would be better for calorie partitioning, but I know two good reasons it would be worse:

      1. Harder to implement.
      2. Harder to evaluate the effect of the change as the time between changes is too short.

      Don’t get too caught up in the theory.

  4. John says:

    I’ve reached Martin’s “Highly Advanced” lifts, lifting 2 years “properly.” Your guide says my Muscle gain potential/ month = 0.5lbs only. Yet, I’m only [email protected]’7.

    Is it true I could only gain 0.5lbs/ month, if this is the case?

    1. Is it true I could only gain 0.5lbs/ month, if this is the case?
      No. There are no absolutes, just likelihoods based on averages. Now, you reached that point relatively quickly, so you probably have better than average genetics for this stuff and it’s probably a little higher for you.

  5. Drew says:

    Hey Andy,

    I’m sorry if you’ve addressed this question before, but I can’t find it if you have. Does having a lower FFMI starting out increase the length of the “beginner phase” or affect weight gain potential at all? For example, most untrained men have an FFMI of 18ish, but does starting with an FFMI of 15ish allow someone to gain muscle at the rate of a beginner for longer? Alternatively, does that possibly limit the amount of muscle that they can gain, or indicate that their genetics may limit them more than an average person?


    1. Hi Drew, it just an indicator they are less genetically blessed. Unless the reason for the low FFMI is a period of sustained undereating. This would probably have to be purposeful, however.

  6. Vova says:

    Hi, For the last 2-3 months i gained only 1KG while increasing my calories from 3300 to 3600, why my weight gain is so slow, and how can i change it? my calories is F 25%, C 55%, P 20%, and my training weights going up pretty slow once a 2 weeks

    Thank you.

    1. NEAT adaptation. This is the incalculable part of things that will vary from person to person. You need to make the adjustments based on your rate of weight gain.

      Calculate → Track → Fine Tune → Track → Fine Tune → Track → …
      ^ Skip back up and re-read this section Vova.

  7. Carlo says:

    I’m very weird. I’ve reached Martin’s “Highly Advanced” lifts. Your guide says my Muscle gain potential/ month = 0.5lbs only. Yet, I’m only [email protected]’7.

    Is it true I could only gain 0.5lbs/ month, if this is the case?

  8. Harinder Sandhu says:

    Hi Andy,
    This was a great read! Quick questions, What is the rate of body Fat gain while slow bulking?

    1. Hi Harinder. It depends on the method chosen. See also the “Factors That Determine The Rate We Can Grow” section.
      If you’re slow bulking you’re looking at ~50-100% the muscle gain as fat on average.

  9. Mark N says:

    Hi Andy, would you recommend making our maximum stomach measurement target flexed or unflexed? I’ve found my unflexed measurement can vary wildly depending on many factors. Thanks in advance!

  10. Jack says:

    This was a fantastic read. Wish I’d happened upon this sooner.

    1. Glad it was helpful Jack.

  11. James Currie says:

    Great post,

    Questions about the calculations for target weight gain.

    If someone is aiming to gain 2lb of muscle per month it would be 2*2500 + 2*3500 = 428 kcals daily?

    Or if someone is aiming to gain 2.5lb of muscle per month it would be 2.5*2500 + 2.5*3500 = 535 kcals daily?

    Then you’d adjust from there depending on weight gain?

    Also I bought the ebook “The last shred” anything on the horizon for bulking?

    1. Hi James, thanks for the questions.
      If someone is aiming to gain 2lb of muscle per month it would be 2*2500 + 2*3500 = 428 kcals daily?
      – No, you’ve screwed up the math. You need to divide by the number of days in a month. If we call that 30, that’ll be 400 kcal. (500 kcal for your second question.)
      Then you’d adjust from there depending on weight gain?
      – Always.
      Also I bought the ebook “The last shred” anything on the horizon for bulking?
      – Yes, I’ll be adding that into the third edition. 🙂

  12. Justin says:

    Hi Andy,

    Your fantastic work has provided priceless guidance for my diet and exercise routine. I am successfully concluding my cut and am swiftly approaching my 8% body fat percentage goal. I have predictably become weaker with my lifting and have found myself more fatigued during and after working out. My main question for you is, as I begin my transition from cut to bulk, should I take a week off from training to recover a bit and transition my diet? Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    1. Hi Justin, great to read this and congratulations on achieving that condition.

      Should I take a week off from training to recover a bit and transition my diet?
      Should? No. Could you? Yes. I can’t see it making a difference if you do. Just bear in mind that:
      – It’s normal to feel more lethargic when dieting, and especially when coming to the end of one.
      – It’s normal for your lifts to be down due to the mechanical inefficiency of being leaner.
      – You’ll get a considerable bump to energy levels when you return to maintenance calories and beyond.
      – If you haven’t been taking deloads, that’s probably part of the issue. The simplest way would be to reduce all exercises by one or two sets for a week. This will allow residual fatigue to dissapate. You can do that now.

  13. Ian says:


    Someone does not like “slow-bulking”
    Any thoughts?

    1. If you ask a specific question, I’m happy to give an answer Ian. However, link dumps with “thoughts?” attached is not something I’m prepared to offer responses to in the comments. Too much of a time sink you see.

      1. Ian says:


        I think that page has a different meaning for slow bulk. It kind of got me confused. Let me quote that page.

        “The actual term “slow bulk” implies that if the lifter was consuming more food, the muscle would be packed on more quickly.

        According to Martin Berkhan, the absolute most muscle a natural, consistent lifter with a perfect diet and training routine can hope to put on…….is around 2 pounds per month.”

        So, if I understand correctly, this relaxed bulk should put on more muscle.

        1. Thanks for the clarification Ian. I think we’re defining the two in the opposite way, so they agree.

  14. Tim says:

    Hi Andy,
    When going into a bulk goal of 3 lbs of muslce a month, if you end up being 6lbs pound heavier at the end of the month (because of the calorie recommendations)then you have gained 3lbs muscle and 3lbs fat. What if for example you only gained 4lbs, would the ratio again be 2 and 2, or could it be 3lbs muslce and 1lbs fat. I guess there is no exact way to tell but is the assumption that it is usually a 50/50 split. The reason I ask is because I have seen many body transformation videos of average people and they look to barely gain any fat while still getting much bigger (this is mostly noticed on the skinny to skinny fat body type) Thanks.

    1. Hi Tim. How much you can gain per month, once all other factors within out control have been accounted for, will come down to genetics. There’s no way to test for that however. If you shoot for 3 lbs of muscle gain per month and gain 4 lbs of weight, that might be 3 lbs of muscle and 1 lb of fat, it depends on how lucky you are.

      The problem is, it’s very hard to tell/know in advance, you’ll only know what the ratio is/was when you cut down again. So, if looking to maximize the rate of muscle gain, I’d suggest gaining body weight at ~100% above your realistic growth potential. If you have an aversion to fat gain, you could of course try for just 50% over, but whether that will net you the same muscle growth or just stop you from gaining as quickly isn’t something you’ll know.

      Lastly, when looking at transformation videos on the internet, just remember that the cream rises to the top. Use outliers for motivation, but not to set expectations.

  15. Ben says:

    Hi Andy, another quality article! Much appreciated. I have a question: I have cut down to 10% and want to start a slow bulk. Currently I am in a 550 kcal/day deficit. In your example ‘Intermediate trainee, average height, finished his cut to shreds, recently losing 0.75lbs per week.’ you suggest increasing daily kcals to maintenance + what is needed to bulk. I have read that increasing kcals so drastically could/would lead to a quick rebound towards one’s previous fat %. Do you advice people to increase their calories in steps (some say add 100 kcal/day/week, but this would take 10 weeks so shift towards bulking!) or is the rebound towards ones previous fat % broscience?

    1. Hi Ben, thanks for the question. No need to do it exceptionally slowly in my opinion, but I’d do it in stages:
      Step 1: Increase the calorie intake to calculated maintenance. Wait two weeks.
      Step 2: Add the calorie surplus. Wait 2-4 weeks.
      Step 3: Look at the average rate of weight gain weekly. Add in the calorie amount necessary to bring yourself up to the target rate of weight gain. (This is necessary because the calculations in steps 1 and 2 can’t account for the adaptive component of your metabolism, so they will fall short.)

      1. Ben says:

        Hi Andy, thanks for your answer! It is very useful to me.

  16. Mario says:

    QUOTE: “Let’s call this 15% body fat – a level where with enough muscle mass you will still look good. (15% body fat when you are weak and carry very little muscle doesn’t.)”. /QUOTE Hello Andy, I’m a total begginer (not that even… just gathering info _before_ trying to start anything) and yes, I’m currently weak and carrying very little muscle. I’m overseas and since my english is far from perfect, please clarify if this means that in the present condition it should be more than 15% or less than 15% to look decent… would seem a dumb question for some english native people but I prefer to be a dumb “asker” once than a dumb ignorant indefinitely. (Improving my english too, as I struggle to understand the very detailed information you kindly provide! Many thanks!).

    1. Hi Mario, no problem. I’ll write this another way:
      How good someone looks at 15% body fat depends on how much muscle mass they carry. A guy with a lot of muscle mass will still look good. A guy with very little muscle mass will not.

  17. Mark Bond says:

    Hey Andy,
    I was wondering if you could tell me what to do about my protein intake when i switch from cutting too lean bulking. Right now im between 170g – 197g of protein while on my cut and i know when im ready to move towards bulking my protein will only need to be around 135g so how do i adjust? Do i slowly decrease protein as i increase fat and carbs or once i reach maintenance calories i drop my protein and replace those calories with carbs.

    1. Hi Mark, thanks for the question.
      Protein needs in a calorie deficit are theoretically higher than when in a calorie surplus. Whatever you have calculated for a cut then will be a little higher than what is technically likely to be necessary for when you bulk, at the point in time you start.

      However, as we set protein intake according to lean body mass, and your lean body mass will be increasing as you bulk, you could increase your protein as you get bigger, but as the amount will be so small it’s not really even worth trying to calculate it.

      My recommendation: Keep your protein intake the some when you switch from the cut to the bulk. It’ll only be a 20-40g difference. Recalculate to a higher rate only when you have your next cut.

  18. Bryan says:

    Hi Andy,

    Say you were tracking your rate of weight gain in an attempt of trying to gain 1.6lbs/month or .4lbs per week. If you fell short of this or above this would the calculations be the same as a fat loss phase whereas [(Average rate of change – Target rate gain) *500] or would the calculations differ? If so, how would they differ?


    1. Bryan, thanks for the question. For all practical purposes consider them to be the same.

  19. Felix says:

    Hi Andy,
    You’re saying that gaining muscle and fat in an 1:1 ratio is realistic when doing a slow bulk. What about the leangains system, doesn’t it make the fat gain percentage smaller as there are already mini-bulk-cut-cycles within a week? When on leangains, shouldn’t I aim for weight gains smaller than 200% of the maximum muscle gain potential in order to gain less fat (while ideally gaining the same absolute amount of muscle)?

    1. Hi Felix, thanks for the question. You can set the total weight gain at less than 2x your muscle gain target, that’s just me being conservative. I don’t think undulating calorie intake across the week (like with Leangains) will make any considerable difference. Have another look at the ‘Factors That Determine The Rate We Can Grow’ section.

  20. Paul says:

    Hi Andy,
    I’m coming towards the end of my bulk as per the instructions above. How would I work out my macros for my transition from slow bulk to cut? Do I reverse the above instructions i.e. work out maintenance from average weekly weight gain and say minus 5%, or do I need to do an initial setup calculation for a “cut” (or something else entirely)?

    1. Hi Paul, thanks for the question.
      Yes, simple as that, but you’ll probably need to deduct around 15% from calculated maintenance. Try that then adjust after a few weeks to bring yourself on target if necessary.

  21. Leeson says:

    Hi Andy,

    Based on my experience with slow bulking, weight tracking seems way less reliable for making adjustments. Despite eating the exact same foods every single day, my weight on every one of my slow bulks is so unreliable in tracking. If I look at the last 3 weeks of data, I can see my weight has only gone up by 25g. Seems like it’s time for an increase right? But, looking at last 6 weeks of data though, I can see my weight has increased by 800g which equates to 133g per week on average and much closer to my target. Do you find this with clients and yourself and if so, how do you track when to make changes when bulking? Do you still use 3 weeks?

    1. Hi Leeson. It’s normal for your weight to jump around a little. Weighing yourself daily and taking the average at the end of the week is the best way around it. If three weeks isn’t enough to establish a trend then you can do longer periods.

      1. Leeson says:

        Thanks Andy. I only usually weigh in on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and calculate the average based on that. I’ll try 7 days from now on and see if I can get a more consistent pattern!

  22. Christine says:

    Thank you so much for all of the books and articles. I enjoy reading the science and logic behind the mechanisms for losing fat and also gaining muscle. This is the first time I have been on a controlled bulk. In the past I’ve started out with good intentions, but ended up doing a dirty bulk by the end and gain too much body fat. I have been at this current bulk for 13 weeks and have averaged about .5lb gain per week (7lbs total so far). I started out very lean at about 9% body fat. I’m getting stronger every week on my lifts and my clothes have been getting tighter. I have just recently read your article on taking measurements, so I will be switching to that method to assess progress, but I fear that I am adding body fat much too quickly. I am female and wonder if the rate at which I am gaining weight is too much. Your article seems geared toward males and I believe females can’t put on muscle at the same rate as males. What would be your take on the slow bulk numbers for an intermediate-advanced female lifter? At what level of body fat would be ideal to stop the bulk? Thanks for your time.

    1. Hi Christine, thank you for the comment. I’m happy to hear that my articles and adjust have been so useful. While the principles are the same for women, I can’t give specifics like I have for men as I don’t have the experience. (I only work with men.)

  23. Snowy says:

    Hi Andy,

    Long time lurker, I’m following your shreds to bulk protocol.

    Once in the bulk, is there a certain time period you’d put on a bulk, such as a cut you say 12 weeks then 2 week diet break, or simply monitor BF% or waist circumference?


    1. Hi Danny. Just gauge it my the latter. Waist circumference based on previous condition is probably the most objective way to do it.

  24. Zlatko says:

    Asked a question in this thread 7-8 months ago. I was in purgatory, a skinnyfat guy who changed things to often, and the answer was to stick to my relaxed bulk. So i stayed on it for 7-8, months, with some months of caloric balance in there.
    Now i really curious if my bulk sucked or if i gained some muscle. Maybe you or some reader could tell by my numbers, cause i cant.

    All changes are in 7 months (with 2 months in the middle eating on balance). The 2-3 first month was more serious bulking, after that it was more “I will just stick to something, keep training and keep eating).

    I am 187 centimeters and 39 years old. So here is my before and after.

    Weight: 73 kg – 83 kg.
    Chest: 98 cm – 102 cm
    Arms: 33 cm – 36 cm
    Above navel: 82 – 88
    Navel; 85-93 cm
    Below navel: 86-94 cm
    L thigh: 55 cm – 60.5 cm
    R thigh: 56 cm – 61 cm.

    All lifts have gone up, except chins/pull ups since i am so “heavy” now.
    I have grown everwhere, but the navel statistics are really frightening.
    Are the navel measurements to much compared to the gains on my other bodyparts? I mean the stomac have grown the same amount as the thighs, more or less.

    1. Hi Zlatko, to answer your question I’d need more than the details above, which puts it beyond the scope of the comments I’m afraid.

  25. Kai says:

    Hello Andy,

    it’s Kai from Germany. Just wanted to say thank you for all the guides here. Helped me pretty much the past years.

    I’ve seen studies about muscle gaining potential that evidenced that real muscle gains do correlate with the hours spend in the gym. That totally contradicts your approach, I think.

    (Figures was like 4-15 lbs in a year with 3-4 hrs/week, and 7-25 lbs with 7-10 hrs/week)

    What do you mean?

    Thanks in advance 🙂


    1. Hi Kai, thanks for the question. Training volume is the key driver of progress over the long haul and will need to be increased gradually (but not always linearly) over time. In order to get the appropriate amount of work done in the gym (volume) it becomes necessary to spend more time in the gym. That’s possibly what the study is showing.

      However, you set training volume according to needs, and then the time is a function of that. You don’t decide time spent first. If you’d like to learn a lot more about this, check out Eric Helms’ The Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid video lecture series.

  26. Teresah says:

    interesting content for our students studying Physical Education

  27. Your ability to explain this complex topic in simple terms through writing is phenomenal! Keep up the great work Andy. This is very very helpful.

    1. Most welcome. Thanks for taking the time to comment Shazid.

  28. Luciano says:

    Hello, Andy

    Great guide, as usual! I just have one doubt about the methods you recommend in your guides. On your “The Complete Guide To Setting Up Your Diet”, you go for the “slow bulk” method over the Leangains, but on many other site’s articles you go through the Leangains style of dieting. Could you please clarify me which one you’d recommend in fact? Or they are most likely the same?

    Thanks in advance,

    1. Hi Luciano, thanks for the question and sorry for the lack of clarity. These are two separate things:
      1. “Leangains” is the name of a system of organizing your meal timing and training developed by Martin Berkhan.
      2. “Lean Gain(s)” in the article above is a descriptive term used to describe the style of bulk. The applicability is limited to fairly advanced trainee who already know what they are doing (more on this above), hence the inclusion of the slow/controlled bulk in the free set-up guide instead.

      These two things are not mutually exclusive. You can use the Leangains system with a “slow/controlled bulk”, and you can use it with a “lean bulk”.

  29. mehdi says:

    HaHa , i’ll try my best thank you Andy.

  30. mehdi says:

    hi andy could you plzz write a Weight & Measurement Checklist for bulking like the one in your manual for cutting

    1. Hi Medhi. If you agree to write all future comments with proper spelling and punctuation, I’ll wrap up that checklist you’re requesting into the next update of the book, and include a revamped version of this guide also. Deal?

  31. Marcin says:

    Hello there. I’m at the end of my cutting, I want to prepare this time very well and don’t screw up what I achieved. I have never use creatine an would like to introduce it to the bulking. What can I expect using creatine? How to track the progress and make the right adjustment?

    1. Hi Marcin, see the supplements section on my complete diet set-up guide.

  32. Vincent says:

    Hello Andy,

    Hopefully this question replies to my previous post. I have decided to start my bulking phase (slow + controlled bulk), but I was getting confused when reading between the two posts (Returning to Maintenance and Adjust to Successfully Bulk).

    1. When reading this article, I was using the Average height/intermediate trainer for myself. I was currently losing about 1lb/week. When following the example, I replaced the calculations with my own (500kCal daily deficit (1*3500)/7)). Following the muscle guide, I estimated that 1.5lb gain would suffice for me at the moment. (1.5*2500+1.5*3500)=9000 (monthly intake)/30=300/day increase.
    When following the example, I am not sure where this comes into play, if at all: (500 + 1.5*300)=950 kcal daily increase(?). Does that seem right to you? Just at a glance.
    I know you don’t do math calculations through the comments, but I was just wondering if I missed something or if I did it correctly.

    2. I also read the section on when it is better to return to maintenance than bulk, and I was considering doing that by adding the 250-500 then adjusting as needed. Which one would be a better option? I’m not FULLY satisfied with my current physique, but it is acceptable.

    Thank you for any and all answers.

    1. Hi Vincent. If you’re looking to bulk, go with this guide. If you’re looking to come to maintenance, go with the maintenance guide.
      1. As you know, I don’t offer to confirm or correct individual calculations in the comments. Too many people ask and it’s unmanageable.
      2. They’re different ways of coming at the same result, so just choose one, track and then adjust.

      1. Vincent says:

        I completely understand. The only thing I still don’t get is where the 675 comes from in the example of shredding. I know his deficit+15.*200. Why would you multiply the 1.5*200 if it was calculated to be 200 if the target gain was 2lbs? I know for the deficit you add the 375 back.

        1. Ah, sure I see how you’re confused now. Skip two paragraphs back:

          → For a 1lb increase in muscle mass per month, target 2lbs of weight gain, so increase daily intake by 200kCal.

          All make sense now? 🙂

          1. Vincent says:

            I think I got it. I know in previous paragraphs you are increasing the goal by 100%. So 100% of 1 is 2, and I know that is where the 200 comes from. I know you got the 6000 by dividing by 30 (average days in month). So if targeting 1.5lb of muscle gain, wouldn’t 100% of that be 3lb of total weight gain, which would result in a 300 kcal daily increase?

            1. No, 675. He’s in an approximate ~375 kcal daily deficit currently, so that needs to be added also.

  33. Vincent says:

    Hello Andy,

    I have a couple questions about some things:

    1. When you say find maintenance calories and add them back, do you mean the “coma” calories first calculated at the beginning of our shred? Mine is incorrect because I underestimated my BF% and am not sure what my maintenance calories would be at the moment.

    2. I am going to start bulking close to the end of the summer. When I decide to shred again, how would I know where to start again? Would I recalculate based on my new weight from bulking and estimated BF%?

    Thank you again. You have been very helpful with answers to my many previous questions.

    1. Hi Vincent, thanks for the questions.
      1. I have a guide to finding maintenance here.
      2. You could do that. The way I’d do it though is to make an initial adjustment downwards to calorie intake (a calculation), and then make incremental adjustments downwards from there based on progress (cause there are adaptive elements of metabolism/energy expenditure that we can’t calculate).

      Find the amount of weight you’ve been gaining on average per week in the last 4 weeks in pounds. Add to that the target weight loss per week. Multiply that number by ~3500, then divide that by 7 to find the appropriate reduction daily.

      This, if you’ve been gaining 1 lb per week, and you wish to start losing 1 lb per week, then for your start point you’ll you’ll make an initial reduction of 1000 kcal each day. [(2*3500)/7] Then just make incremental adjustments downwards based on how things pan out to reality.

      1. Vincent says:

        Thank for your answer to my comment I posted back in August. Now that my bulking phase is just about over, I was curious about the cutting part.

        Once I calculate how much weight I have gained and how much I want to lose per week, how would I calculate what to put each Macro at? I currently have protein at 170 g and may slightly reduce that. I was reading the Cutting section and I read that 50/50 would be good, for carbs and fats, but not to go under 0.4.

        How would I calculate where exactly 0.4 is? I was thinking estimating my BF% and basing my LBM off of that and my average weight. I just wanted to run it by you to see if I am on the right track.

        Thanks again and the website looks great.

        1. Hi Vincent, thanks for the questions.
          “…how would I calculate what to put each Macro at?”
          I’d usually just start by keeping protein the same and reducing fats and carbs to create the deficit. Suggested ranges of fat intake here, carbs make up the rest of the calorie balance:
          The Complete Guide To Setting Up Your Diet

          “How would I calculate where exactly 0.4 is?”
          A Quick Guide To Estimating Body-fat Percentage

          “Thanks again and the website looks great.”

  34. dan says:

    Hi Andy. “If we start at 10-12% body fat for example, then the majority of the weight gain can be muscle. However if we start bulking at 20%+ then the majority of that will probably be fat tissue”. Why is this Andy?

    also for slow bulk you mention using a weight target of 100% of potential growth. so if you could potentially gain 1lb of muscle per month you would aim for 2lbs of weight per month. why do you suggest 2500 plus 3500 rather than 2500 plus 2500? using the second example you would still have overcompensated enough to ensure maximal anabolic response? hope that makes sense lol

    1. Hi Dan, thanks for the questions.
      1. Differences in the ability to partition calories. Lyle McDonald has a multipart series on it here.
      2. 2500 is the theoretical needs to create a pound of muscle, 3500 for fat.

  35. […] How To Adjust Your Diet To Successfully Bulk By Andy Morgan(英語リンク) […]

  36. Frank Espinoza says:

    Hi Andrew, it’s me Frank again, you coached me 3 months ago. I hope you are okay and enjoying your vacations. I’m writing to ask you something important. As the last three months had passen by, I have tried hard to slow bulk, and trying to avoid the gains in fat the most possible. But in my attempt to do it, I have only failed, and even though I have gained muscle in the process, I have to say that I have gained a lot of fat as well, maybe 3-4 kilos in just two months. I have tried to calculate and integrate the macros for fasting and the alternating days for bulking, and I have failed badly. So my question is this simple: Can you send me a template of macros for the resting day and bulking days, as well as a proposed routine, just as the beginning when you started coaching me for cutting? I know that our coaching time has passed already, but I would really appreaciate it, as I have gained back all of the hard lost fat back in the summer and I don’t want to get fat anymore.

    Yours sincerely.
    Frank Espinoza

    1. Hi Frank, I just replied to your e-mail actually pointing you to this post. As you can see from the guide above, there isn’t a single set of macros I can give you but it’s about making gradual increases to them over time based on the tracking data, depending on which method of bulking you’ve chosen – I believe it was the slow-bulk/controlled bulk that I recommended.

      Fat gain will happen, but some of what you might perceive to be fat gain will be water. If you’re progressing with your training, and your weight is increasing at the rates mentioned above then you’ll be doing fine. The fat gain is a temporary sacrifice that needs to be made.

      1. Frank Espinoza says:

        Another question. If I want to incorporate the intermittent fasting in the bulking, Do I have to fast 16 hrs everyday of the week, or only in the rest days? And if so, the days that I train, I would not fast at all, and the resting days yes, right? That is a question that has been bugging me the last month.

        Yours sincerely.
        Frank Espinoza

        1. Hi Frank. You don’t have to keep to the 8 hour window if you don’t want to do so. In fact, if when you start having difficulty fitting in all the food you need to eat into just the two meals, you’re best to space things out more. It’s best to keep your meal times the same each day though as that helps to regulate hunger.
          I actually just updated my thoughts on this first point in the diet set up guide last week. Check it out and please feel free to ask if there is anything else Frank.

          How To Set Up Your Diet: #4 Nutrient Timing & Meal Frequency, Calorie & Macro Cycling

          1. Frank Espinoza Carreon says:

            Ok Andrew, I have given a review to the whole article. I find my question implicit in the case of Bob:


            Bulk/Calorie Surplus – 75kg, 10% Body fat Daily Calorie Intake: 3141kCal Daily Macros: 150g Protein, 87.5g Fat, 440g Carbs

            Bob chooses to train in the evening @19:00. He trains 4 days a week.
            He struggles to get all his food in two meals, especially on training days, and prefers to eat mid-morning.
            He eats 25% of his macros in a mid-morning snack @10:00, 35% of his macros for a late lunch @15:00, and ~40% of his macros for dinner after training @20:00.

            So, in the case of Bob, the days he trains, he skips breakfast and has his first meal at 10:00 am, and in the resting days he fasts as usual? Is this a good template for a bulking with minimal fat gain?

            And if so, can it too be applied like this: Training days I eat as usual, and in the resting days I fast the 16 hours?

            Yours sincerely

            Frank Espinoza

            1. Generally I’d recommend that he eats at the same time each day, every day if possible, as that is better for hunger regulation, and also a set schedule has benefits for adherence.

  37. […] How To Adjust Your Diet To Successfully Bulk […]

  38. […] How To Adjust Your Diet To Successfully Bulk […]

  39. Casey says:

    Hey Andy,

    First off: excellent article. Very thorough and informative.

    I’m feel I’m finally ready to start bulking, and had just one question:

    For the slow bulking method, do you recommend immediately switching from a deficit, or slowly adding kcals back in every couple weeks (~200-300kcal/day/2weeks)?

    Forgive me if you’ve answered this elsewhere, I could not find it.


    1. Hi Casey. See the section, “Intermediate trainee, average height, finished his cut to shreds, recently losing 0.75lbs per week” and read from there bud.

      1. Casey says:


        My question actually pertained to the example. I think you are saying that he will immediately switch from his deficit kcals to his surplus kcal (there is no “maintenance” period in between), but wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

        Thanks again!

  40. Gil says:

    Hey Andy iv been cutting for a while but still got fat to loss (around 18-20% body fat I guess) but Im just sick of cutting.
    I have begginer to novice strenght level using LeanGains approach. My question is should I switch to “bulking” diet to switch things up and bring my numbers to more experienced level or just suck it up and keep cutting? I have problem to stick to the cutting diet (note:not cause hunger)
    thx in advanced!

  41. Ark says:

    Hi Andy,

    When can we expect the eBook?


    1. Hey Ark! They’re being put together now. You’ll probably have noticed some significant updates to the set-up guides over the last few weeks, they’ll all be in a reformatted e-book version which I’ll be giving away for free download.

      1. Ark says:

        Looking forward to it!

  42. Fred says:

    “It takes roughly ~2500kCal to synthesise a pound of muscle. (~5500kCal/kg)

    A pound of muscle itself is only 600-800kcal (protein + glycogen + trace intramuscular adipose tissue). But when you go through the metabolic processes to synthesize 600-800kcal of muscle protein, those processes themselves consume an extra 1500-2000kcal. That’s 2100-2800kCal total”

    Where are this numbers taken from? Interesting 🙂

    1. Fred, agreed, thanks.
      As flimsy as this sounds, Greg Nuckols, when I asked him if he could put any figures on it. He forgot the source, but I trust his recognition skills as he rarely forgets anything. (1580 in his SATS at 14, then a perfect 1600 at 16 and 17).

  43. dan says:

    thanks very much Andy thats very helpful. Just one question for you before i ban myself from asking anything else for a week or so (if i can make i that long lol).
    My brother is an aspiring bobybuilder and is considering competing in november. He is currently around 20% bf, he is 273lbs so to get to 8%ish he would need to lose 30 odd pounds by my calculations. Is this a realistic time frame for him to do it? i mean it seems that in that time he would be able to lose that amount of fat without compromising muscle but what happens if he needs 2 diet breaks in that time each 2 weeks long (which i presume he would)? he could be left with a large amount of fat to lose in a short period of time nearer the competition (say 14lbs in 3 weeks). what is your advice?

    1. Most welcome Dan.
      If your brother is 273lbs @20% body fat, then he’s either exceptionally tall, or has been taking anabolics. The rate people can lose fat while still retaining muscle is much higher when taking certain drugs, so your calculations (and advice from this site in general) won’t be so relevant, and will likely be ignored anyway.

      It’s likely that your 20% is very generous though and actually he’ll be carrying more fat than you think (and he wants to admit). This means he’ll have a lot more fat to lose. Regardless, if he has to be on stage, then he has to be on stage though even if some muscle is lost because he took it too quickly. That doesn’t have to be the end of the world though because muscle can be regained quickly.
      Suggested maximal rates of fat loss are covered in this article:
      How To Set Up Your Diet: #1 Calorie Setting

      1. dan says:

        yes he does use anabolics. I understand that this means he may be able to retain more muscle whilst cutting but i wasnt 100% sure on whether this was the case or not. thank you for your insight Andy. much appreciated as always

        1. Sure no problem. Depends on the drugs he uses, but I’m really not knowledgable on these things.

  44. Patrick says:

    Thanks for your reply to my comment, Andy. To answer your question, it looks like my waist has gone down an inch and my legs have increased 3/4 of an inch. So I must be gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time like you said. I can’t complain about that!

    I’ll just post a few details in case you are interested in what I am doing: I am eating two high-protein meals per day, not counting calories but just making sure I am eating enough so that I’ll be hungry in time for my next meal. I found that cutting sugar out of my diet 95% of the time helped me feel more satiated without going overboard on calories. I am doing the big three routine three times per week religiously and I also play basketball or run three times per week.

    I am not sure which of these things is most important for my progress, but if I had to guess I would say it’s because I am not cutting corners on my workouts anymore. In the past, I would skip a day here and there. Now if I am really sore or not feeling well I just drop the weight to 80% and do the same number of sets and reps. I feel like the constant stimulus is really helping, although this is just a feeling of course.

    Thanks again. Your site rocks.

  45. Matthijs says:

    Hi Andy,

    love the article. I’ve got a question that has been bothering me for a while now and hope you can shed some light on the following. My problem is that I’m trying to do a lean gains bulk but I’m not gaining weight while it seems like I’m gaining fat and my main lifts are not improving (or perhaps have slightly improved) since a few months (doing Wendler 5/3/1 BBB). I’ve been gradually increasing calories but I’m a bit hesitant to make large jumps because I don’t want to get fat.

    Have you seen anything similar with any of your clients and any chance you know the cause of the same weight/more fat/no improvements in the gym situation?

    Before I started my bulk I was about 8% BF, now it’s about 12%.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Matthijs, thanks for the question.
      – If you are in a calorie surplus but are not progressing with your training then you will gain fat rather than muscle. The training is there to force adaptations, and the calorie surplus is there to help fuel the recovery and growth demands.
      – As you’re saying that you are not gaining weight that means you are not in a calorie surplus. This could be stifling your training.

      The fact that you are claiming to have gained fat while not gaining weight or progressing with your training has one of two possible options:
      1. You are an advanced trainee that made a switch from a very high volume routine to a much lower one with so little volume that it is ceasing to provide the minimal stimulation necessary to maintain your muscle mass. (Unlikely, as the change in volume would have to be extreme. Background here: Stress: In The Gym, Out of The Gym, and How it Affects Your Program and Progress.)
      2. You’ve been tracking with one of those fucking BIA machines and due to the change in water balance that happens with an increase in carb intake when we go from cutting to maintenance (and then bulking) it’s now told you that you’ve gotten fat, when you haven’t. But the observation that there is now some water under the skin has confounded these fears.

      Your action plan: Burn the BIA machine, hold a little party for it’s funeral. Increase your calorie intake a little and watch your lifts keep rising without your waistline. Start tracking properly so that things like this don’t mess with your head again and you can remain objective about progress:
      How To Track Your Progress

      Now, tell me I didn’t absolutely nail it with that second point Matthijs.

      1. Matthijs says:

        Hey Andy,
        ‘measurement’ has been done mostly by means of the mirror and taking photos. I do am tracking waist measurements but only recently so I don’t have enough data points yet to say if fluctuations might be normal. Anyway, the mirror is the method you advise to clients who’re doing a lean gains approach, right?
        What I’ll do next is keep on increasing calories in small increments and see if my weight goes up and performance in the gym improves. Does that sound about right?

        Thanks a lot for your take on this, it’s really appreciated!

        1. Matthijs says:

          And start tracking as per your recommendation on how to track progress.

        2. The mirror is the worst tool possible in the short term, as it only screws with our heads. Photos – related, but not the same as the mirror – are one tool to track progress, but the least important part of the overall system in the short term, which where all the decisions are made. Even taking measurements at the waist only is a mistake, multiple sites are needed as fat loss does not come on or off linearly.

          Give the guide a good read, it’s all in there Matthijs.

  46. dan says:

    hi Andy, first off this website is amazing!! so much useful information, wish i had found it earlier. After reading through much of the material i just had a few questions if you didnt mind? in regards to progressive overload how effective is simply increasing the load over time without adjusting any other variables? or would it be better to change other variables? say do a 6 week meso using certain exercises and increase load when possible, then for the second meso change the exercises or exercise order and then try to increase load during that phase ect?

    also you mention calorie surplus for muscle gain. with 200-300 for beginners and 100-200 for intermediates. is that number just the cost of building the new tissue? as in if i metabolize 3000 cals per day from bmr/rmr, TEF and activity (say lifting weights) and i didnt want to build muscle then 3000 would be ideal for me to maintain muscle but if i wanted to build muscle i need an extra 100-200?

    finally do you concur with the thrifty gene theory, i only ask as you mentioned some people are high NEAT responders, which is interesting.

    many thanks, all the best

    1. Hi Dan, firstly, thank you for the high praise. Don’t mind the questions at all, you’ll see that I’ve answered thousands.

      In regards to progressive overload how effective is simply increasing the load over time without adjusting any other variables?

      1. Fairly effective for a time, in most cases. Simplicity is a big bonus here – stops people messing themselves up. The rest of the training questions really belong in the training section as there is some pretty dense theory there and I think you’ll find your answers, or at least find the relevant context. I’d recommend these four:
      The Core Principles of Effective Training
      The Principle Of Progressive Overload
      Stress: In The Gym, Out of The Gym, and How it Affects Your Program and Progress
      What To Do When You’re Done With Your Linear Progression Strength Training Program
      – On periodised vs non-periodized training specifically, Eric Helms’ Youtube training pyramid series will be helpful, or you could check out “The Strength Guys” website – they had a very good breakdown of it for their presentation in Birmingham for the EPIC Summit and I imagine they have something on their site.

      2. Yes. The changes in NEAT, etc. cannot be factored in as there are interindividual differences.

      3. Can’t say whether I concur with it when we’re not staring at the same definition. However I will say this, some people definitely have it easier than others due to genetic and hormonal differences. But just as saying, “I did it, so why can’t you?” is flawed and somewhat naive, using metabolic differences as an anchor for inaction would also be a mistake.

  47. Zlatko says:

    Hi Andy.

    Thanx for the nice guide. I am on a relaxed bulk and trying to stick to the advices i have picked up on your site the last months.

    Background: I am one of the skinny/fat guys who changes everything to often. Changes routine to often, bulking, feeling fat and stop bulking, cut, feeling to skinny and stop cutting.

    So now i decided to follow your advice: Make up your mind, Stick to it, if it aint broken and so on.., But now im feeling the need to change things again 🙁

    I have been on a relaxed bulk (Not counting anything) since 1 of may. I have gained 4 kg, and thought i was getting bigger. But when i measured, just now, it saddens me to see that all that is growing is my waist. Legs, chest and biceps are same size as before. But the waist, around the belly button and so on, are a couple of centimeters wider.

    I have been lifting weights for about three years (when i was at my strongest i could do 15 chins) , but then i got sick and did not do any lifting at all for over 4 months. After that it was 2 months of just a little bit of light weight lifting (gaining my healt back). So now i thought maybe i could consider my self a beginner, so i am on a a 3X week full body workout. But well, it doesent seem to click.

    Or is gaining muscle the same as when on a cut, suddenly the changes come? Or is a month and a half to little time to make any conclusion?

    Yes, i am getting stronger (and putting more weight on the bar) since the 1 of may, but i aint stronger then i was 7-8 months ago. Far from it.

    Sorry, for a lot of text. And probably some bad spelling to. But i guess my question is, do i need to switch to a split? Or should i just give it time and stick to it for once?

    Many thanx for your great site and guides Andy!

    1. Hi Zlatko, thanks for the question.

      A month and a half is a little early to be drawing conclusions. As you said yourself, you’ve been struggling to stick to a plan (cut or bulk) and have been changing things too often, so this is especially true for you.

      Key point: Are you progressing with your lifts?
      – Yes? Keep doing it.
      – No? Change things up.
      – Worried you could be progressing faster with some form of split? Try the split for a month and see if that is the case. If not change back.

  48. Patrick says:

    Hi, Andy. Thanks so much for this article.

    I’m a tall/skinny guy and I’ve been training (well) for about a year now. I’ve made significant strength gains but I’m still a novice by Martin’s guidelines. I’m doing a relaxed bulk and eating the same things almost every day for easy adjustments.

    For the last two months I have been hovering around the same weight but my strength is still increasing in the squat and deadlift by about 5 pounds every 2-3 weeks.

    I’m just wondering if strength gains are a good marker that I’m bulking correctly, or do you think using body weight as suggested in the article is definitely better?

    1. Hi Patrick, thanks for the question.
      “I’m just wondering if strength gains are a good marker that I’m bulking correctly, or do you think using body weight as suggested in the article is definitely better?”
      Both need to be taken together when assessing things.
      If you are just gaining strength and your weight remains the same, that often suggests muscle growth at the same time as far loss. Are you tracking your body measurements? My full guide for that here:
      How To Track Your Progress When DietingCode

  49. Mike says:

    Hey Andy!

    I knwow you’re a fan of calorie cycling as a means of stay lean while gaining muscle. However many people in the industry claim it’s hardly more efficient than eating the same calories every day because not many changes can happen in such a short period of time (a day).
    However, what do you do think of doing something like 3 weeks bulk (+500 cal), 1 week cut (-500 cal), or something like that? Do you think it might be more efficient than cycling every day?


    1. Hi Mike, thanks for the question.
      “Do you think it might be more efficient than cycling every day?”
      – No, I don’t think that will have any advantage, and will just interrupt the bulk phase and your training, thus could turn out to be negative overall.

      Cycling calories/macros with your training and rest days is going to be marginally more efficient, thus the benefits need to be weighed against the additional complication you introduce to your diet. Note the position in the nutritional hierarchy of importance for fat loss and muscle growth:

      The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance for Fat Loss and Muscle Growth
      Here’s my guide to that with reasons:
      How To Set Up Your Diet: #4 Nutrient Timing & Meal Frequency, Calorie & Macro Cycling

      If anything isn’t clear then please feel free to hit me up in the comments again.

Question welcomed. (Over 16,000 answered)

Comment rules:
  • Please check the FAQ first. / Keep questions on topic.
  • Write clearly and concisely. / Click reply when responding.
  • Please do not post your diet calculations or training program and ask me to critique it. Answers depend on context beyond the scope of how I wish to use the comment functionality on this site. You can hire me for coaching here.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click the "Add Section" button below to start creating your layout
0 Blog Text Copy
0 Blog PodCast iFrame
0 Blog Heading with Styles
0 Blog Content Image