Many a sin has been committed in the name of bulking. At the mention of the word, weightlifters the world-over begin to gorge on pudding, pizza and pop-tarts; assured by their “swolemate” that this is how gains are made. Six months later, after their six pack has disappeared and they can no longer see their toes over their bulging belly, many a bro has regretted their decision. Though some ectomorphs or “hardgainers” may require the massive caloric surplus prescribed in the bulking annals; for the majority of us, “bulking” is used as an excuse for an extended binge with the consequence of unnecessary fat gain. If you’re looking to put on some muscle mass while minimising fat gain, then lean gaining is certainly for you.
What is lean gaining and how do I do it?
As mentioned above, lean gaining is the acquisition of muscle mass while minimising the amount of fat gained. The only way to gain weight is to consume more calories than we expend. In order to get an idea of how many calories we need to achieve this surplus, we must first calculate the calories required to maintain our current weight (aka maintenance calories).
By simply existing, we use up energy. The beating of our heart, contraction and relaxation of our diaphragm, and other bodily functions all contribute to the total amount of energy we expend in a day. The amount of energy required to carry-out these unconscious actions in a fasted state is called our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). On top of this unconscious energy expenditure, we have something called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). This is the energy we use while walking to work, typing on a keyboard, fidgeting, etc. and it is our BMR, combined with our NEAT and the energy we expend during aerobic exercise/resistance training that adds up to our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Therefore, the maintenance calorie equation looks like this:
MAINTENANCE CALORIES = BMR + TDEE
Don’t worry though, there are numerous free online calculators to help you calculate all of this (just have a look on Google).
You can also work out your maintenance calories through trial and error. By weighing yourself daily over a number of weeks under the same conditions and tracking your food intake, you can estimate your maintenance calories. If your food intake and training have been consistent and you haven’t gained or lost weight, voila you have your maintenance calories!
In order to gain weight, we need to exceed this maintenance calorie goal. In traditional bulking, one might overshoot their maintenance by thousands of calories. However, while lean gaining, a modest surplus of just a few hundred calories is enough to see increases in muscle mass without too much fat gain. While lean gaining, a good goal to aim for is about ½-1lb of weight gained per week. This modest weight-increase will ensure that your muscle mass is increasing at a steady rate, while your fat levels are being held in-check.
Nutrition and food choice are crucially important when lean gaining. While many people might relish the thought of being able to eat more than they might ordinarily, others find it difficult to get all the necessary calories in during a 24hr period. The general recommendation is that we should be getting 80-90% of our calories from whole foods, and this holds true for lean gaining. Eating whole foods is a sure-fire way of ensuring you consume sufficient amounts of the micronutrients and fibre required in your diet. However, if you’re required to eat 3,000 calories per day and you’re trying to do that exclusively on chicken, broccoli and brown rice; you’re going to have a very boring life (and will probably end up binging!)
Supplementing for Success
While it is popular to get your extra calories from the traditional “bro bulking” foods (sweets, chocolate, etc), it is almost certainly more beneficial to get these calories from a well-designed supplement stack. By definition, supplements exist to supplement a well-balanced diet and should be used thus, never as a replacement.
A supplement like Complete Lean Mass™ from BULK POWDERS™ is perfect for lean gaining due to its 1:1 ratio of carbs to protein. The carb source, Ultra Fine Scottish Oats, is slow release – ensuring that glucose is slowly released into the bloodstream. The low sugar content also means there are no unwanted spikes in blood sugar levels which can often lead to fat storage due to excess levels of glucose in the body.
High quality, lean protein sources are vitally important for muscle growth. As well as being expensive, however, lean cuts of meat tend, with prolonged consumption, to become somewhat bland (if you aren’t particularly adventurous in the kitchen). This is where a whey protein supplement such as Pure Whey Protein™ comes into play. Packed-full of protein, incredible value, easy to drink and, most importantly, delicious, Pure Whey Protein™ is an easy way to get protein (and calories) in without breaking the bank.
If bland food is a problem for you, why not give the Active Seasonings™ a go? They are a fantastic way to give food a bit of flavour, with minimal fuss!
Creatine has been shown to increase strength, lean mass and endurance in resistance-trained athletes; as well as a myriad of benefits relating to performance and cell adaptation. It is widely regarded as a perfectly safe and effective supplement which fits perfectly into the stack of anyone looking to gain lean muscle mass.
Mass gainer supplements get a bad rap. Often touted as too expensive for what they contain, they have been demonized by many in the fitness industry. However, supplements such as INFORMED MASS® are beginning to change the game in the mass-gainer world. Often companies would mix their basic protein powder with a sub-standard carbohydrate source, resulting in a calorific beverage tantamount to a protein shake mixed with some cordial! INFORMED MASS®, however, contains numerous additional ingredients such as Creatine, HMB and Leucine that will aid you in your lean gaining goals. Recent research has also shown that 25% more creatine is absorbed by the body when stacked with protein and a high-quality carbohydrate source.
Lean gaining is far from complex and is certainly worthwhile. While bulking may yield a greater absolute weight reached on the scales, when cutting season returns you’ll have a lot less to lose and it will be much more enjoyable if you’ve been lean gaining. So ditch the broscience, keep your six-pack and gain some healthy mass!
About the Author
Rob Browne is a Medical student from Ireland. His passion for health and wellness is matched only by his love for food. Having previously worked in recipe development under flavor scientist Dr. Rachel Edwards-Stuart and maverick Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen, he uses his experience to make recipes so delicious you’ll forget that they’re healthy!