There are three main stages in bodybuilding. Bulking, cutting, and maintaining. If your goal is to build muscle mass and increase size, then you’re currently in the bulking phase. But, when does this phase end? When do I stop bulking?
Placing your body under physiological stress during strength training, then consuming caloric surplus has always been the perfect recipe to induce rapid muscle hypertrophy.
However, most people will follow this approach without the slightest idea on when to stop bulking. If this is true, you may as well keep bulking forever! The caloric surplus you are consuming will not only impact your muscle mass but will also boost your body fat percentage.
If you let things get out of hand, your fat tissue will bury your muscles, giving you a puffy, bloated look. This is why it’s crucial to learn when to stop bulking.
When should you stop bulking?
“Stop bulking when you see that your muscles are large enough.”
Ever heard that statement? Or, “stop bulking when you are big enough”. But these statements are so vague and unclear. So, when exactly should you stop bulking?
In general, men should stop bulking when they reach 15% body fat. Women, should stop bulking when they reach 25% body fat. This will give you a great physique without compromising your health.
Researchers found that 15% body fat is ideal for preventing further fat deposition. You see, a higher body fat percentage will only precipitate more conversion of glucose to fatty acids, which eventually get stored inside adipocytes (i.e., fat cells).
You should consider that a high body fat percentage will boost the activity of aromatase, which is an enzyme that transforms androgens into estrogen. The side effects of this enzymatic reaction include man boobs, belly fat, and a high risk of several diseases. It will also decrease your testosterone levels, which is the worst thing that could happen when you’re trying to gain muscles.
If you are bulking to get a perfect body shape with 6 packs, over-bulking is your enemy. You should stop bulking at 15% body fat to allow your abs to be visible. Otherwise, the abdominal muscles might be big enough, but they will be buried under all that fat.
Another reason to stop bulking at 15% body fat is to avoid leptin resistance. The latter makes it difficult to control your hunger craving, leading to all sorts of health problems.
Why I Stopped Bulking at 15% Body Fat?
For me, 15% body fat was the ideal range to stop bulking and start cutting. And this wasn’t because of any physical reasoning. It was more to do with my mental state. You see, naturally I was always lean and had good muscle definition.
And this muscle definition motivated me to keep going, get stronger, and look better. So, I didn’t want to completely lose this and hence why I would do a BULK CUT cycle. Essentially, bulk to 15% body fat and then cut down to around 10% body fat. Repeat this process!
How To Stop Bulking?
The main thing to keep in mind when bulking is why you embarked on this journey in the first place. We know it can be very tempting to keep consuming those calorie-dense foods and indulge in every food craving you have. However, losing sight of your goals will bring you back to square one.
This is why we always advocate for lean bulking instead of dirty bulking. While dirty bulking may give you faster results, the side effects of this approach make it unhealthy.
So, once you reach the 15% body fat mark, you should go back to a maintenance diet. Use one of the many online calculators to estimate the number of calories you need per day to maintain your weight.
If you are having trouble with bulking, you can always ask the help of your primary care physician or nutritionist for a tailored dietary plan.
How Do You Measure Body Fat Percentage?
So, how exactly do you know what body fat percentage you are at currently? Well, there are some ways and tests you could do, however most of these tests aren’t 100% accurate.
Having said that, they should give you a general idea of what your body fat is.
Look In The Mirror!
Yep! Simply looking at your self in the mirror and comparing them with body fat percentage charts will give you a general idea on what body fat category your in.
Remember, take photos of your self consistently under the same lighting conditions.
For men, you will need the circumference of the neck and waist. For women, you will also need the circumference of the hips. Once you have these measurements, you can visit any online calculator to get an estimate of your body fat percentage.
Now there are many more tests you can do, however these two are the ones I use to see my body fat percentage.
The Side Effects Of Over-Bulking
When you don’t stop bulking at the right time, the caloric surplus will lead to various side effects. The major concern here is developing bad dietary habits.
For instance, a lot of people turn to fast food and processed meals to get the calories they need since these items are calorie-dense. As a result, they may become at risk of:
Unfortunately, leptin resistance, along with decreased insulin sensitivity, predispose athletes and regular people to type II diabetes.
To avoid these issues, make sure to opt for lean bulking, which takes into consideration your body image and overall health.
If you failed to stop bulking before it’s too late, you can always start a caloric deficit diet (i.e., the cutting phase).
The Two Different Types of Bulking
To put it simply, bulking is a phase in which you increase your calorie intake for a set period of time in correlation with high intensity weight training.
Why would you do this? Well, the additional calories will provide you with the fuel and energy to train harder and hence will promote muscle growth.
Also, during your high intense training, you damage your muscle, causing microtears. These will eventually repair and your muscles get stronger. However, to repair these tears, you need protein.
That’s why bulking works since you are consuming enough protein for your muscles to grow and recover.
Now, there are two types of bulking: Lean bulking and dirty bulking. Let’s see the difference and which one is better.
1. Dirty Bulking
Now that you understand what lean bulking is, let’s briefly discuss dirty bulking. The motive is simple– Gaining muscle mass. There are no restrictions or limits when it comes to food intake during dirty bulking.
In fact, you are encouraged to eat as much food as possible. Therefore, this approach doesn’t take into account fat gain.
Dirty bulking will lead to more muscle mass in a short amount of time; however, it causes several side effects, including:
The other problem with dirty bulking phase is that you don’t really track your macros. You’re basically eating anything that is high in calories. So, you can easily go past the 15% body fat and before you know it, you would have put on excessive weight making the cutting phase a nightmare for you.
So, should you do dirty bulking? Well, I’m not saying don’t do dirty bulking. As long as you do it for a short period of time and you know when to stop (15% body fat), you should be okay. However, during your dirty bulk, it is likely you consume a lot more fat then you need. This is why I would recommend going with lean bulking.
2. Lean Bulking
Lean bulking, involves a controlled caloric intake to prevent fat gain. Therefore, your meals will give you just enough energy to build muscles.
People who follow the bulking plan will eat a high-calorie diet combined with high-intensity strength training.
Now, if you’re lean bulking, you need to calculate and count everything you eat. You see, calories get sourced from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. During your lean bulk, you need to focus on increasing your carbs and protein while also eating some healthy fats.
If you’re lean bulking, here is a quick breakdown on how much protein, carbs, and healthy fats you should have:
|Macros||How Much Of Each|
|Carbohydrates||4 to 7 grams of carbohydrates per kg|
|Protein||1.6–2.2 grams per kg (0.7 – 1 grams per pound)|
|Fats||0.5-1 gram of fat per kg|
A lean bulk diet mainly consists of whole foods that underwent minimal or no processing. This way of eating is adopted by world-class athletes, including mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters who want to stay in shape during the off-season period. Boxers, strength athletes, and physique athletes also know how to lean bulk.
With that said, lean bulking may not be for everyone. Muscle growth occurs at a much slower rate when lean bulking compared to dirty bulking. But what’s the rush? For me, noticing those small progressions is the most motivating thing.
What To Eat When Lean Bulking?
What’s great about lean bulking is that it encourages you to eat healthy, fresh foods. Thus, you will achieve a great body shape from the inside and outside.
Here is a list of foods that you should include in your diet while lean bulking:
Healthy proteins – chicken, yogurt, cheese, protein powders, tofu, tempeh, kidney beans, other beans, and eggs.
Good Carbs (Complex Carbs) – Quinoa, brown rice, whole meal bread, beans and lentils.
Healthy fats – Avocados, nuts, fatty fish, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
What Foods To Avoid When Lean Bulking?
Foods with excessive amounts of carbs and fats may disrupt your lean bulking journey. For this reason, try to limit your intake of the following foods:
Fat-rich meats – Bacon, other fatty cuts of meat.
Saturated fats – Some cooking oils, butter, biscuits, and cakes.
High-calorie beverages – Avoid all soft drinks and sugary drinks in general.
Processed foods – Fast foods, chips, sausage rolls, microwave meals, and breakfast cereals.
Bonus: How to lean bulk properly?
Lean bulking is the way to go. Yes, it may take longer. But once the bulking phase is over, the cutting phase becomes a lot easier since you would not have put on much fat.
So, how do you lean bulk. Well, it starts by establishing the number of calories you need to maintain your weight. We call this maintenance calories. To get this number, you can use one of the various online calculators.
Once established, add 10–15% more calories. For instance, if you calculated that you need 2500 calories to maintain weight, you would need to consume 250 – 375 calories extra.
Now that you have the number of calories to eat per day, you need to make sure you have enough protein. I like to go with the standard 1 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (2.2 grams per kg). Confusing? Let us give you an example:
Let’s say you weigh 175 pounds. Therefore, if you want to increase your muscle mass, you need to consume 1 gram of protein multiplied by 175. This gives us 175 grams of protein per day. Since 1 gram of protein accounts for 4 calories, 700 calories of your daily energy intake will consist of protein. For the rest, you can include carbs and fats.
Generally speaking, 25% of your calories should come from fats. So, let’s assume you’re calorie goal is 2750, then 688 calories should come from fats (25% multiplied by 2750).
1 gram of fat has 9 calories. Therefore, you would need around 76 grams of fat (688 divided by 9).
So, now we have 700 calories coming from protein and 688 calories from fats. Therefore, your carbs will make up the rest of the calories. Which means you would need 1363 calories from carbs (2750 – 700 – 688). 1 gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories. Therefore, you will need around 341 grams of carbohydrate (1363 divided by 4).
We recommend that you speak with your primary care physician or nutritionist before starting to lean bulk.
Learning when to stop bulking is as important as bulking itself. In fact, this stage in bodybuilding is where people can go seriously wrong. Either they adapt a dirty bulking approach or they just lose motivation exceeded the 15% body fat percentage mark.
So, make sure you monitor your weight regularly and workout consistently to see the best possible results.
I hope that this article managed to explain when you should stop bulking, as well as the proper ways to do it.
As always, stay Fit & Healthy and I will see you guys next week!
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