You landed on this page because you are either a beginner who has no idea about bulking up, or you are a skinny person who wants gains — or, most likely, you are both.
And, you are looking for a comprehensive guide to help you bulk up FAST.
If so, then you are in the right place!
In this article, I will give you all the vital information on how to bulk up successfully, including:
- Basics of bulking: calories, training, recovery, and patience
- Proper nutrition
- Best way to train
- Nutrition Plan
- Workout Plan
- Why bulking fails
Being a former skinny guy, I know the pain of looking at the mirror and being frustrated at what you see.
Just like you, I wanted to get jacked but have no idea about mass gaining for skinny guys.
After a few Google searches, one term kept popping up, “bulking”. What is it?
In the world of fitness, it is simply trying to gain as much size as you can in a given period.
To go on a bulk, you have to go over your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). This primarily involves upping your food intake.
Not only that, but bulking also involves going to the gym and optimally recovering from it.
So, a successful beginner bulk involves three key components: a high number of calories, hard training, and great recovery.
“Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody want to lift no heavy ass weight.”, said the 300-pound mass monster and 8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman in his famous training video where he squatted 800-pounds for reps.
In other words, you have to lift heavy to become a true bodybuilder – massive, muscular, and jacked.
But lifting weights is not enough; you must also eat to bulk up.
And by eat, I mean proper nutrition; a diet of high protein and lots of carbs and fats.
During a bulk, you have to eat the same way 4-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler did.
“I don’t eat for taste, I eat for function,” he said.
Hence, in your bulk phase, you should be ready to gorge yourself on food, to eat way more than you are used to.
To eat not for pleasure but purpose.
Let’s talk about the basics of bulking below.
How to bulk up 101
You must eat above your basic caloric needs or Total Daily Energy Expenditure.
After calculating your TDEE, you must add 300-500 calories to push you over a caloric surplus – a vital component in bulking.
To determine your bulking caloric intake easier, you can multiply your body weight in pounds by 13-15.
Eat the right food
Not only should you consume more than an adequate amount of calories, you should also get your nutrients from high-quality sources akaREAL food, or food that is unprocessed and free of chemical additives.
Examples are fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, and whole grains.
Your protein intake should be of complete proteins, such as meat and poultry.
If you’re vegan, you can go for quinoa and soy. Carbs should be a mix of simple and complex carbs.
Examples of simple carbs are fruits and dairy products, while complex carbs are beans and vegetables.
And, the majority of fats should be sourced from healthy sources, like fish and nuts.
How hard you train determines how much you will grow. The more muscle damage you cause during a workout, the more muscle you will need to build back up and more. The harder you train, the more mass you can build.
Growth happens outside of the weight room. So, if you train for an hour, the other 23 hours is where muscle growth will occur.
I know you’re excited to see some gains. But even a skinny guy’s workout plan should include time to rest. It’s equally important as working out.
Factors for recovery include sleep, workout frequency, nutrition, and even joint and muscle therapies.
Patience and tempering your expectations
Change how you see “quick” when talking about muscle growth. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast as the SEALs say.
As a beginner, you can expect to gain 2-4 pounds of muscle a month. If you’re weighing in and see more than that, then some of that will be fat gain.
Now, let’s get into the details of bulking up. If you like to build a massive physique in the most optimal way as a beginner, keep reading.
Bulking Nutrition in Detail
Let’s start with the first part, going over your baseline caloric intake or TDEE.
To do this, know how many calories you need first. For a more detailed computation, you can use a TDEE calculator.
For a ballpark figure, simply multiply your body weight in pounds by 11-13. The lower end for women, and the higher end for men.
For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, multiply that by 13. This gives you a baseline of 1950 calories. But this is NOT what you will be shooting for in a day.
To bulk up, add 300-500 calories to the computed figure. This is enough to build muscle mass according to studies.
Again, using the 150-pound person as an example, 1950 + 300 puts you at 2250 calories.
THESE ARE the calories you will be aiming for to enter a hypocaloric state.
As beginners, I strongly advise that you track your food and calorie intake for at least 6 months.
You can track your calories using myfitnesspal or other similar apps.
As the saying goes, you are what you eat.
So, I advise that you consume most of your calories from real food that is high-quality sources.
Also, you must make sure that you are getting an optimal ratio of macronutrients to support your muscle-building.
What are high-quality sources of food and what is the optimal macronutrient ratio, you say? Good question, here they are:
Your macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Protein is what builds muscle, the amino acids derived from it serve as the building blocks of muscle.
Carbohydrates provide you with the energy you need for training. And more importantly, the energy you need to recover aka rebuild your muscles stronger and bigger.
Fats help with testosterone production, an important anabolic, or muscle-building hormone. They also help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins and give you a low-insulin-impact energy source.
These are reasons why all your macros are important for a successful bulk.
But, don’t forget your micronutrients. They will help you absorb and utilize better the macros you consume as well as benefit your overall health.
One meta-analysis shows that 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight already reaches the upper threshold of protein consumption. You do not need more than 150g of protein if you are a 150-pound person.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, as long as the necessary amount of protein is accounted for, carbs and fats can be as much as you want them to be.
Your meals can be divided into two categories: acute-needs meals and chronic-needs meals.
They differ in the characteristics of the macros you consume.
You have acute and specific needs pre and post-workout. When you provide your body with the right nutrients it needs during these times, you maximize your growth potential.
Your chronic needs are your basic nutrient needs throughout the day to support your bulk phase. This type of meal constitutes the other meals you consume during the day.
For pre-workout, you need quick-absorbing carbs to fill your glycogen stores for maximum training output, and a slow-digesting protein blend for an anti-catabolic effect.
So, it is best to consume simple, low-GI carbs and a casein/BCAA blend before a workout.
For post-workout, you need to replenish your glycogen stores as well as consume quick-absorbing proteins to stop catabolism and immediately kickstart muscle protein synthesis.
Thus, it’d be best to consume quick-absorbing carbs and whey protein during this time.
Your chronic meals can be a mix of fast and slow-absorbing macros.
I strongly advise that you eat real meals, rather than consume supplements, for this type of meal.
Best Food Sources
To build muscle, the protein you consume must be a complete protein containing all the nine essential amino acids. This makes sure that they all go towards muscle building.
You can get protein from:
- Soy, pea, rice protein as vegan alternatives
Carbs are sourced from:
Fats are best when they come from
- Olive oil
- Fish oil
You can also use supplements to fulfill your nutrition needs if food-based nutrients won’t suffice.
The top 3 supplements I recommend are protein powder, creatine, and a mass gainer.
A protein powder supplement, besides helping you meet the 1g/lb of bodyweight requirement, promotes muscle hypertrophy and enhances strength gains even further.
Creatine, when used pre-workout, helps you produce more force during exercise. And, as mentioned beforehand, the harder you train, the more room you have to grow. It also increases the production of IGF-1, which has a direct and anabolic effect on skeletal muscle according to one study.
Lastly, if overeating is undesired, mass gainers will help you be consistent with your caloric intake. It’ll help you reach and go over your TDEE to make sure you have more than enough calories to build up your physique.
If you are too stubborn, do something as simple as counting your calories. I’ll still give you a helping hand. However, you’ll be using your hand to help yourself.
How? With your open hand, you can approximate the amount of food you must consume in a single meal to make sure you meet the optimal macronutrient ratio for every meal you eat in a day.
The size of your open hand would equal the protein portion you have. Your closed fist will be the size of your starch aka carb portion. And, your thumb size will dictate how much fat you have on your plate.
As for your micronutrient sources which are mainly veggies, you can have as much as you want. Although, I recommend a closed-fist size.
Sample images with links:
This gives you a good estimate of how your bulk up diet should look like.
You will have to learn to eat more even when you’re full. Bulking up is not a walk in the park regardless if you consume real food or have the aid of liquid calories. It will be uncomfortable.
A meal plan for skinny guys bulking up requires a caloric surplus combined with hard training and a great recovery regimen for muscular hypertrophy.
Since you are a beginner, do not be afraid to gain some fat. Remember, training plays a huge role in bulking up too. The extra glycogen and weight from gaining a bit of fat give you leverage and more strength to lift heavier and harder.
And when you train like this, you can produce more stimulus. And if your recovery is great, this will lead to more significant gains.
Training in the Trenches
Compound movements are superior
Compound lifts are your best friend when seeking to put on as much muscle as you can in a given period.
First, doing them recruits more muscles compared to isolation movements. So, you work a large part of your body using a single compound movement.
And, since you are recruiting more muscle groups, you have a higher force output – you can lift heavier.
And for beginners still learning how to lift properly, the heavier you can lift, the more mechanical tension you can create. With more mechanical tension comes higher exercise intensity.
For now, the term “intensity” is what we’ll use to indicate the “main driver” of muscle growth. Just focus on that word for now without the other scientific jargon I just mentioned.
Let us define intensity as “how hard a set is”.
Next, compound exercises also create neurological responses that make your body produce more muscle-building hormones such as testosterone, human growth hormone, and IGF-1..
Hence, compound lifts make you more anabolic.
The bench press, barbell row, overhead press, squat, Romanian deadlifts, and pull-ups are the compound movements we will be using for the workout routine.
I’ll be giving you bulking up workouts later on.
Rest periods should be longer
You have probably read that the more intense a workout is, the more growth you elicit.
So, you should have shorter rest periods right so that every set is harder, right?
Well, new research debunks this notion.
The more intense a SET is, the more growth you elicit. And, the longer you rest, the more force your muscles can exert for the next set.
This, then, tells us that you should rest longer. Intensity indeed builds density.
But, to be more precise, set intensity builds density, not perceived intensity from being too tired to maximally overload your muscles as a result of short rest periods.
Thus, shoot for at least 120 seconds or 2 minutes of rest in-between sets.
Workout Plan: Rationale
As a beginner, your focus should be on building a foundation of size and strength. You should at least be as strong as you are big.
Let me talk about progressive overload quickly.
Progressive overload is the gradual increase in the weight you are lifting or the increase of the reps you are able to do with a specific load/weight. This happens significantly during a strength-focused training phase.
And, as a scientifically unproven yet anecdotally true nugget of wisdom, achieving progressive overload is a great indicator and driver of mass gain.
Just look at Ronnie Coleman, Phil Heath, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. During their prime as bodybuilders, they were also lifting some serious weight.
Although a direct causal relationship between hypertrophy and strength gains does not yet have a solid scientific basis, studies show that there is generally a positive correlation between muscular hypertrophy and strength.
Simply put, when strength increases, so does muscle mass.
Another reason why I want you to train for both muscle and strength is this:
The stronger you get, the more weight you can lift. More weight creates more mechanical tension in the lower rep ranges. More tension equals higher intensity. And, higher intensity means more mass gain.
So, when you train heavily, you can get more out of an exercise in a shorter amount of time. Imagine having to do 100 reps of lightweight just to get the hypertrophy response that a brutal set of 10 can give you.
Lastly, there is no specific rep range best for hypertrophy. “Muscle hypertrophy can be equally achieved across a spectrum of loading ranges”, as stated in one major study.
So, you can throw away your “8-12 is best for muscle” bro-science out the window.
The Workout Plan
The workout plan will focus both on size and strength. You will be using a Push/Pull/Legs split in a two-days-on/one-day-off cycle.
Hence, you will be hitting each muscle every 4-5 days. This allows your muscles and central nervous system (CNS) enough time to fully recover before the next workout.
Take your sets to failure. But, for the 5×5 exercises, make sure you have a spotter.
Use a warm-up set or feel set for every exercise. Do NOT go to failure on these sets.
The goal of doing these is to prepare both your muscles and your mind to properly execute the movement.
It also helps you determine the correct amount of weight that will make you fail at the final rep of the real sets.
Muscles worked: chest, front and side deltoids, triceps
|A||Bench Press (preferably dumbbells)||5||5|
|B||Incline Dumbbell Press/Overhead Press||4||8-10|
|E||Cable Pushdown/Skullcrushers with cambered bar||4||8-10|
For the bench press, always lift in the scapular plane. To make it simple, tuck your elbows in while you press. Using dumbbells makes this easier to do.
Not only is this the optimal position to target your chest muscle fibers, it also makes the lift anatomically sound with a significantly lower risk for pain or injury.
You can alternate the incline DB press with the overhead press. This way, you can have one chest-focused push day and a delt-focused push day on the next.
For the tricep pullover, get into a normal pullover position with your back resting on the bench. Position the dumbbell past your head, this puts the triceps at a loaded stretch position at the beginning of the movement. Keeping your upper arms stationary, move the weight by just moving at the elbow joint.
Using a cambered bar for skullcrushers allows you to lower the weight even more without, well, crushing your skull.
Remember, what we seek in all hypertrophy exercises is to use as much active range of motion as we can; a more active range of motion means more muscle fiber recruitment.
Muscles worked: lats, rhomboids, teres major and minor, traps, rear deltoids, lower back, biceps
|C||Seated Row/One-Arm Dumbbell Row||3||10-12|
|D||Reverse Pec-Deck/Bent-Over Lateral Raises||3||12-15|
|G||Incline Seated DB Curl||3||10-12|
The barbell row should be done with your torso at an almost 45-degree angle with the floor. This lets you hit the upper back muscles better. And, that is our goal with this exercise.
This position also helps you lift heavier since you have a better center of gravity. This is an all-back exercise since stabilizing the weight forces you to recruit your lower back muscles as well.
Contrary to popular belief, pull-ups and pull-downs hit the mid-back more than the lats. Perform your reps slow and steady, none of that Crossfit-type kipping pull-ups.
With the exercises in “C”, pull the weight towards your belly button. Doing so activates the lats better, helping you get that coveted V-taper from the back.
For the incline seated dumbbell curl, make sure you allow the elbows to fully extend. This exercise is meant to remove the recruitment of the front delt and put the most stretch on your biceps for full activation and, hence, better development.
Muscles worked: quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves
|A||Back Squat/Hack Squat||5||5|
For the back squat, do not ego lift, or lifting more than you can. Also, do not arch your back. Rather, brace your core by inhaling deep and then tensing your abdominal muscles.
This transfers the work of stabilizing the weight to your core muscles rather than loading the spine.
From the bottom, purse your lips to create more intra-abdominal pressure to reduce compressive forces on your spinal discs.
When doing RDLs, it is best to use dumbbells. Using DBs allows you to place more tension on the hamstrings due to the better arm position, something you cannot get on a straight bar.
Let your arm relax so that the dumbbells just slightly brush against the side of your thighs. Create just a slight bend on your knees, lock it in position, and slowly lower the weight by bending at the hips. The only movement should be at your hips.
Do not let the iron touch the floor. Stop at about mid-shin. From there, flex your hamstrings to lift the weight back up. You’ll know you’re doing it wrong when you feel it more on your lower back than your rear thighs.
In the leg press, do not lower the weight so much that you lose tension in the quads and your butt starts to lift off the pad.
Also, never fully lock your knees at the top of the movement. You can dislocate your knees and have them bending in a way they are not supposed to if you do.
As far as foot placement is concerned, having your feet high and close together on the footpad biases the glutes. Having your foot lower biases the quads. Since we want holistic leg development, place your feet in the middle and spread them shoulder-width apart.
Where do most beginners fail when on a bulk
Not counting calories
I laugh at the people who say they eat more than him or her, but they do not gain any weight. Listen up, bucko, you are not eating as much as you think you are.
Your bulk is most likely to fail if you do not count your calories. Especially as a beginner, you cannot just eyeball your food portions without at least 6 months of measuring your food.
Not lifting enough
You might be getting all the calories you need, and your weight might be constantly moving –but are you gaining muscle or just fat?
Some beginners are easily deluded by significant jumps in body weight but fail to objectively assess what type of mass they are gaining.
Going to the gym consistently and training hard makes sure that most of the calories you consume go toward muscle-building.
My advice, take progress photos at least every two weeks besides just gauging your bulking progress on the weighing scale.
Sleep is the second most important component for recovery, number one being food. During slumber, your body secretes high amounts of hormones to build your body back up.
One research showed that people who slept less gained 60% less muscle at the end of the study, while those that were able to sleep for at least 8 hours gained about 40% more muscle than they had at the beginning of the study.
I really hope you enjoyed my complete guide to bulking for skinny guys.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
Which technique from today’s post are you going to use first?
Are you going to start focusing on your diet? Or are you going to start setting up your workout routine?
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.
What should I eat to bulk up?
First, you should go over your basic caloric requirements by 300-500 calories to enter a hypocaloric state.
Next, make sure you are consuming 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. As for how many carbs and fats you’ll consume, it’s entirely up to you.
Lastly, be consistent with your training and make sure you get a good night’s sleep most, if not, all the time.
How can a skinny guy bulk up?
There are three essential components for bulking up: caloric surplus, consistent training, and optimal recovery.
Eat more food than you are used to. Make sure at least half of your calories come from protein. Next, train intensely and lift consistently. How you train will influence hypertrophy. And, make sure you get enough rest to help you maximally recover.
How do I lift to bulk up?
Always exercise at a high intensity. The more intense a workout session, the more growth you can stimulate. The intensity of your training will depend on how much mechanical tension you create on a rep-per-rep basis. And for beginners, lifting heavy is the answer.
How can I bulk cheaply?
The cheapest way to bulk is by meal-prepping. Prepare at least 3 days’ worth of food beforehand so you won’t be tempted to do take-outs to fill your macronutrient needs.
If you want to be more specific, you can turn to adding tablespoons of healthy oil to your food and shakes to fill in your calories instead of buying multiple carb sources which can cost more.
How do you meal plan for bulking?
This is the simplest answer: Make sure your protein intake is at 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. Then, fill in the rest of your calories with carbs and fats.
How quickly does muscle build?
As a beginner, you can expect to gain muscle by 1 to 1.5% of your total body weight in pounds per month. That’s considering you lift consistently and eat optimally.
If you’ve never been to the gym, chances are you can experience hypertrophy at an even higher rate. Of course, these gains will slowly taper down as you move from beginner to intermediate and so on.