How To Do a Lean Bulk | A 2024 Updated Guide for a Clean Bulk

The majority of the people you see in gyms started their fitness journeys wanting to lose weight, but there are many who want to stimulate muscle growth and get stronger. If weight gain is what you want, then you should make sure you go about it the right way, by focusing on eating more calories without gaining fat through going on a lean bulk.

Bulking lean, or "clean," is considered a more careful approach to build muscle. You eat above the maintenance calorie intake, but the goal is to add pounds to your frame slowly and methodically so you know the majority of the size you put on is lean muscle. Yes, you may gain some body fat as well, but the objective is minimizing fat gain for the sake of providing the necessary calories need for muscle gain.

Lean Bulk Versus Dirty Bulk

Unlike basic dirty bulking, where you literally eat as much food as possible to gain weight, including junk food, a lean bulk generally healthier and more sustainable in the long run. In other words, your shirt size will grow when lean bulking, but you may be able to keep the same pants or shorts. Some pure ectomorphs that are considered very skinny may be able to get away with dirty bulking and eat junk food, but not everyone can do the same.

At this point, the question is how many extra calories do you need for muscle building? Would you rather gain 50 pounds and have to lose 40, or would you be good with 10 solid pounds that you can show off immediately? If you fall under the latter category, then keep reading because the lean bulk is what you need.

Creating a Lean Bulking Diet Plan Based on Body Weight

Before you head to the fridge or grocery store, you should know exactly how many calories you need to eat to build muscle while keeping body fat at bay. You can do that if you know your total daily energy expenditure. But if you don't know your maintenance calories, we can help thanks to our calorie and macronutrient calculator.

Once you find your how many calories you will need for your lean bulking diet, you need to break that down into the macronutrient percentages you should have per day. A sensible ratio to follow starting out would be the following: 

  • 30% protein

  • 40% carbohydrate

  • Fiber should account for ~15% of total carb intake

  • 30% fat

  • ~20% of which comes from saturated fat

What Does That Look Like?

Remember that protein and carbohydrates each contain four (4) calories per gram and fat contains nine (9) calories per gram. Let's say that you found out you need 3,000 calories a day according to the calculator. This could be what your macronutrient intake will look like based on the above percentages.

  • 3,000 x 0.30 = 900 calories from protein = 225 grams of protein per day

  • 3,000 x 0.40 = 1,200 calories from carbohydrate = 300 grams of carb per day

  • 1,200 x .15 = 180 calories of carbs that should come from fiber = 15 grams per day

  • 3,000 x 0.30 = 900 calories from fat = 100 grams of fat per day

To keep the chances of fat gain to a bare minimum, it would be wise to back off the calories on your rest days that you aren't as active. In the above example, you could back off the carbohydrates to 250 per day and fats to 90 a day. Protein should always remain the same regardless of whether you are training or not.

How Much Muscle Mass Can I Expect to Gain?

Beginners that are new to working out can strive for one pound of lean mass per week because of how the body responds to the training and change in diet, but many people can expect to see closer to one pound every two weeks. Building muscle is a process, and quality is much more important than quality. Pay more attention to the next meal you are eating and less to the scale so you can be assured that you have the best chances for success.

Now, if you have been in the training game for a while, then you have a longer road to walk, but you may be amazed what five pounds in a couple of months could do for a physique. Again, take it a day at a time and don't become obsessed with a number.

What If I am Gaining Too Much Body Fat?

You may notice a little body fat gain along the way, but you should not see significant changes if you are doing your lean bulk correctly. You can check your body fat percentage once a month to monitor that progress. If you see that you have added a little too much body fat, then reduce your daily calories by 10 percent and add three to five cardio sessions per week of 30 minutes each. After four weeks of eating maintenance calories, reassess where you are. The cardio and reduction in calories should help you reduce body fat.

Basics of Nutrition for Lean Bulking

You may have seen the word macronutrients, or "macros" in a lot of diet or nutrition content. Macros are the major sources of energy for humans. [1] The body breaks them down so they can reap the benefits. The four macros are protein, carbohydrates, fat, and alcohol. Yes, water is a macro too, but it does not have energy.

It could take a whole book or class to master the macros, but here is what you need to know for the purposes of a clean bulk and to gain muscle. 

Protein

When it comes to going on a lean bulk for fitness and athletic goals, protein intake may be the most essential macro of them all. People cannot synthesize all 20 amino acids that the body needs. The body needs protein for repairing the muscle tissue that was damaged from exercise as well as build new tissue to prepare for further stress. In other words, you need protein to recovery and grow. If for some strange reason you can only eat one macro source for a meal, eat protein.

Examples of complete lean proteins are chicken breasts, eggs, beef, fish, Greek yogurt, or whey protein. Once you take in protein, the body break down those 20 amino acids individually and into peptide chains. Those are then absorbed to create new muscle proteins, which then are used to create new muscle tissue. This is why skeletal tissue is the premiere source of amino acids for the human body. [2]

There are several recommendations as to how much protein intake to have in a day, but the most common guideline is 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily if muscle growth and weight gain is the objective. If you want to focus on calories instead of grams, refer to the guide we shared above.

Fat

This is one of the biggest misunderstandings when it comes to nutrition. Yes, you can eat too much fat, but not all fat is bad. As a matter of fact, there are healthy fats that are essential for providing fatty acids that comprise phospholipids in cell membranes, creating steroid hormones, insulating the body, and providing long-term energy [3]. In short, you need fat for a lean bulk.

There are two forms of fatty acids, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats will melt sooner than unsaturated, and your nutrition program should contain most unsaturated fats. Focus on monounsaturated sources such a as seeds, nuts, avocado, olive oil, and fishes, which will also provide you protein. That said, don't be afraid of the saturated fat sources either such as whole eggs, coconuts, and dairy fats. Just don't rely on them or eat them in excess. When it comes to dairy and meats, look for "grass-fed."

Carbohydrates

Do we "need" carbohydrates to live? Not if survival is all we are after, but if you want energy and to build muscle, then you better start adding them in because they are a source of energy that can help you during a lean bulk when a calorie surplus matters[4]. Carbs are grouped into three categories - monosaccharides (one-sugar molecule), disaccharides (two-sugar), and polysaccharides (multiple-sugar).

You may have heard the terms "simple" and "complex" when it comes to carbs. Simple carbs are also known as simple sugars and can include table sugar, dextrose, and molasses, as well as fruits. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest.

Examples include grains, plants, and rice. Carbs are eventually converted into sugar molecules and then converted into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the main form of chemical energy in cells.

It is alright to eat some simple sugars during a lean bulk. The best time may be when you wake up and before training. However, the majority of your carbohydrates should be complex sources.

Furthermore, you should understand glycogen and glycogenolysis, which is when glucose molecules get linked together to create glycogen. Glycogen is found in the liver and skeletal muscle tissue. If you have enough glycogen in your muscle tissue, it is the energy storage that the muscle uses when you are training. It also expands when water is accumulated, which is what bodybuilders and recreational lifters on a lean bulk want. This is when the muscle achieves that "fullness" look.

Fiber

A neglected aspect of many diet plans is fiber. Soluble and insoluble fiber is very important for digestive health, especially for weight gain. It provides a lower amount of energy than other carbs sources, but don't skip out on it. Staying regular and having proper intestinal function is vital to reaping the nutritional benefits of what you eat. Fortunately, vegetables, grands, and fruits are all solid sources.

Micronutrients

Think of nutrients as a sports team. The macros are the starters, but no team wins without a solid bench of supporting players. For the human body, micronutrients are those bench players. Examples of micronutrients include organic acids, vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols. Many "micros" serve as antioxidants to help reduce oxidative stress as well.

Now, taking a quality multivitamin would be a great insurance policy, but if you are generally healthy, eat a good amount of plant foods, and have no micro deficiencies, then your quality diet should have your bases covered. That said, if you have access to a food-tracking app, feel free to use it.

Water

You should be drinking plenty of water every day anyway, but it is even more crucial to support muscle growth, maximize athletic performance, and improve muscle recovery. A general guideline is three liters per day for active individuals. That said, the more body weight you have or more active you are, the more water you may need.

Intuitively, you should be drinking plenty of water daily since hydration is vital for athletic performance and cellular function. A good rule of thumb is to drink about 3 liters of water per day [4]. However, you may require even more if you carry more muscle mass or live an extremely active lifestyle. 

If you doubt whether you are drinking enough, go to the bathroom and check your urine. Clear means you are good, but the more yellow to orange it looks, the more you need.

Best Foods to Eat for Lean Bulking

We already shared a few examples of quality food to eat to help with the muscle gain process, but some people still spend time trying to find "the best food." Generally, single ingredient food will serve you well regardless of your goal, but there are no foods that should be eliminated completely, especially if you are eating in a calorie surplus to meet a macro goal.

In reality, there are no "best foods" to build muscle, nor are there foods that are inherently "off-limits." As long as you're meeting your calorie and macronutrient needs, food choice isn't much of a concern. Now, if you are aware of a food that you don't do well with, don't eat it just for the sake of calorie intake.

Now, if you live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, then you should consider brown rice protein and pea protein for your amino acid needs.

What Supplements Should I Take to Gain Muscle? 

Let's be clear about this. You don't need supplements on a lean bulk diet plan for maximizing muscle growth. However, they do make it an easier process as long as you are working hard with resistance training and eating extra calories while trying to minimize fat gain. The nutritional and strength training components are very important and should be on point before you even consider supplements. Now, once you feel you are ready to add them in, here are the best supplements to consider.

Pre-Workout Supplement

Preparation before the workout is key, and having a high-quality pre-workout during a lean bulk can be a game changer. If you are looking for one to help provide sustained energy, consider Transparent Labs Bulk Black. This formula features evidence-based ergogenic ingredients like citrulline malate, caffeine, beta-alanine, betaine anhydrous, and Alpha-GPC to facilitate strength, recovery, and muscle pumps when you're cranking out reps.

Protein Powder

You know by now that you need quality protein from whole foods, to build lean muscle and change body composition, but protein shakes certainly help. Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate is a tasty way to get your protein shake in without the risk of increasing fat storage. For the vegan folks, we got you covered as well thanks to Organic Vegan Protein Powder.

If you want to really maximize muscle growth during your lean bulk, consider casein protein powder, which digests slowly and great to take before you go to sleep. Remember that protein powder can help with total calorie intake, but the primary sources of your protein intake should come from minimally processed foods and lean meats.

Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine is a sure bet for building lean muscle. Studies have also verified that it is safe and well tolerated as well. [5] 3-5 grams per day is generally recommended, and you should make sure the creatine you take is evidence-based like TL Creatine HMB.

Krill Oil

We have shared that dietary fat is a necessity, but you don't want to get it from a dirty bulk or eating junk food. Krill Oil provides omega-3 essential fatty acids that can promote bone health and help support brain health as well [6].

Lean Bulking Workout

You know what goes great with a Lean Bulk plan, a solid training program based on muscle building. Go check out this Guide to Powerbuilding to go along with your lean bulk diet for building muscle while getting stronger!

REFERENCES

1.Nutrition and Supplement Update for the Endurance Athlete: Review and Recommendations. Kenneth Vitale 1, Andrew Getzin 2

2.Regulation of Skeletal Muscle Function by Amino Acids. Yasutomi Kamei 1Yukino Hatazawa 1 2Ran Uchitomi 1Ryoji Yoshimura 1 3Shinji Miura 4

3.Dietary fat: a history.A H Lichtenstein 1

4.Physiology, Carbohydrates Julie E. HoleshSanah Aslam 1Andrew Martin 2

5.Creatine Supplementation: An Update Matthew Hall 1Elizabeth Manetta 2Kristofer Tupper 2

6.Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review. Ibrahim M Dighriri 1Abdalaziz M Alsubaie 1Fatimah M Hakami 2Dalal M Hamithi 2Maryam M Alshekh 2Fatimah A Khobrani 2Fatimah E Dalak 2Alanoud A Hakami 3Efham H Alsueaadi 4Laila S Alsaawi 5Saad F Alshammari 6Abdullah S Alqahtani 7Ibrahim A Alawi 8Amal A Aljuaid 9Mohammed Q Tawhari 10

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