James, I see a lot of posts from you on getting lean and I love your writing in regards to fitness. I was wondering if you might provide a few tips on bulking up?

I’m wanting to add some muscle this winter and then lean up again in the spring but I’m not sure of the best way to accomplish this.

Any thoughts?


You’re right. I often write about the art of getting lean because I’m passionate about it. I love the advantages of being lean in life. Not only does an individual get to walk around with less fat, but as he ages, the body just feels better. There’s less knee pain, less back pain, arthritis is better controlled, health numbers are better – and oh yeah…

Everyone is impressed by a 50-year who is still sporting a six-pack.

But long before the days of lean, I was a young man with a passion for bulking up. I spent the majority of my twenties trying to get as swollen as the stay puft marshmallow man – albeit, with a bit more muscle to boast. I understand the allure of getting bigger and truth be told, I loved being one of the biggest, strongest guys in the gym.

While my personal goals today revolve around being lean and fat-free, I still train individuals who have a primary goal of getting bigger and stronger. I understand the process well.

As I’ve often preached, calories are the most important factor – and when bulking up, the type of calories because a more important factor.

Getting lean is a matter of taking in less calories than you burn every day. Getting big is a matter of adding more calories than you need every day – and that means you’re instantly at risk of adding more fat as well.

Since you have to eat a bit more, you can almost be assured of adding a bit of fat while trying to put on muscle. It stinks – but it’s part of the gig. This is why professional body builders bulk up in the off-season.

The exception to the “adding fat” rule, if there is one, seems to be young 20-somethings who are enjoying the perfect trifecta – a rockin’ metabolism, the most testosterone and the most desire (because results come much easier). I say “if there is one” because anyone can still add fat if you eat too much.

Let’s look at a good diet for bulking up – and all of this assumes you’ll be lifting heavy weight to add muscle. Keep reps low and work hard to keep improving strength!

What’s the Perfect Amount of Calories?

Much like trying to get lean, you need to figure out how many calories your body burns every day to maintain weight – known as your TDEE or Total Daily Energy Expenditure.

Take a couple weeks and count calories so you can be sure what you need. From here, slightly increase – and the older you are, the slighter the increase. A 25 year old can often add an extra thousand calories a day and transform that energy into muscle. A 45 year old with such an excess is likely to create more fat.

What Kind of Calories?

chicken breastsMacros matter when you bulk. If you suddenly realize you get to eat another 500 calories before the day is through and you opt for an extra-large bowl of raisin-bran, you’re not helping your cause much.

Protein. Protein. Protein.

Go easy on the carbs when you’re building muscle and stick to high-quality fats and mostly protein.

What exactly does it mean to “go easy on the carbs”? Unfortunately, that varies from person to person and it has a lot to do with how easy your body puts on excess fat. I would never have anyone drop below 100 grams of carbohydrates when bulking. Remember – your body needs to get all the extra protein to those muscles all day long. Insulin “drives” that protein to the muscle and the best way to produce insulin (for non-diabetics of course) is to consume carbohydrates.

I know individuals who eat well over 500 grams of carbohydrates a day and put on very little fat. Big boys they are.

For fat, I normally recommend between 50-100 grams a day. Again, it varies but fat requires the least amount of work to be stored when you’re in a calorie excess. The caveat is that you also desperately need fat to keep hormones optimum and keep all bodily processes fully functioning in the most efficient manner.

Experiment With Calories

While young guys have the superior advantage of being able to add muscle the fastest, older guys have the advantage of understanding their body better. As you age, you get to experiment with bulking every year (if you lean up every spring) and it provides valuable insight into what works best for you.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to bulking – if you’re trying to do it right and minimize body fat. Keep a journal of everything you try because as the years progress, that becomes a valuable resource in helping you to achieve your goals.

It’s October folks. Outside of a vacation to warm, tropical paradise (and good for you if you have this in the works), it’s time to bulk up and get big! Put on some muscle this winter so that you can lean out this spring and look your best next summer.