Winter is here, and that means it’s bulking season!
Personally, I’m aiming to move up from my competition weight of 184 lbs to a whopping 240 pounds this offseason – a pretty massive gain, but one I believe I’m capable of achieving. Of course, that means a lot of eating. Now, I know some guys (and girls) have no trouble shoveling down the calories necessary to grow, but I’m not one of them. Maintaining a 6,000-calorie diet day-in and day-out is really difficult for me.
Fortunately, there are ways to make that easier.
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I went to bed last night at 237. That is the most I have EVER weighed and is a full 50 pounds over my stage weight. In one month. Unbelievable. And I'm not gonna lie… I dig the #thiccc look 😁 The second clip is a video of some #calfraises — partly because my fiancee @staciardison weighs 100 pounds less than me and yet has bigger calves, but mostly because training the calves can actually help your squat! Many coaches and athletes focus on the quads and posterior chain, but the lower leg is an important part of the kinetic chain, and should not be overlooked. In particular, active dorsiflexion (referring to forward knee displacement while maintaining tightness in the anterior tibialis) helps to maintain proper foot positioning and quad and hamstring engagement. If you'd like to read more on that topic, go check out the @elitefts page. Clearly it must work, though, because I added 50 pounds and 2 reps to my #pausesquat this week 💪💪Huge, huge thanks to @troponin_nutrition for helping me have such a mind-blowing offseason 🙏 #granitesupplements #yoked #growingseason #teamnocalves
In fact, that’s a huge benefit of the carb cycling method I am following with the help of my diet coach, Justin Harris. Food choices can also make a big difference. In previous articles, I’ve introduced the idea of nutrient-dense foods and calorically-dense foods. If you’re new to those terms, “calorically dense” foods are those that have a lot of calories in a little package. For example, a tablespoon of peanut butter has about 100 calories; a tablespoon of avocado has about 20. The peanut butter is more calorically dense than the avocado (and, conversely, the avocado is more nutrient dense than the peanut butter).
As you might expect, it’s a lot easier to get a lot of calories when you’re eating lower food volumes.
Now, one important caveat is that you still want the vast majority of your caloric intake to come from healthy foods. Sure, pizza is calorically dense, but that doesn’t make it a good bulking food if you want to add lots of quality muscle without a lot of unnecessary bodyfat.
Here are my top 5 “clean,” calorically-dense foods for bulking (and why I like them)!
5 “Clean” Bulking Foods
For Digestion: White Jasmine Rice
Yes, I know some health advocates generally shun white rice because it contains fewer nutrients than brown rice. But there’s a reason white rice is a cornerstone of the Vertical Diet. If you’re eating a caloric surplus, chances are, you’re also getting plenty of nutrients. Furthermore, white rice digests much more quickly than brown rice, allowing you to get your next meal in more easily. I prefer jasmine rice specifically because it tastes a bit better than plain white rice, and can still be very cheap when purchased in bulk.
For Healthy Fats: Whole Eggs
Now, I generally take a lower-fat approach to gaining weight. That’s because dietary fats slow digestion, and, while they are calorically dense, may make it more difficult to get all your meals in. Still, some dietary fat is essential for health and performance, and I find whole eggs to be an easily-digestible, tasty food that also contains some high-quality protein.
For Intra-Workout Nutrition: Cluster Dextrin
I’m not the biggest supplement proponent, but I can’t deny the fact that cluster dextrin has really improved the long-term quality of my training. Cluster dextrin is a high molecular weight carbohydrate sometimes referred to as “highly branched cyclic dextrin,” or HBCD.
It digests very quickly, but doesn’t create the same rapid spike in blood sugar as, well, sugar – meaning that it provides sustained energy during training and rapid recovery afterward. I personally use about 50 grams of cluster dextrin during my training, but I have seen benefits from as little as half that.
For All Day, Everyday: Water
Hydration is undeniably essential for performance, but it’s also important for digestion!
Sufficient water intake will help to prevent bloating and constipation, and is essential to proper functioning of digestive enzymes. Now, if you’re like me, you might have trouble drinking enough water when you’re filling your stomach up with whole food. If that’s the case, I’d advice trying to not drink too much with your meals, but instead just sip constantly throughout the day.
For Cheat Meals: Ice Cream
Yes, I know I’ve written before about cheat meals and how I prefer to keep them pretty clean. That’s still the case – I prefer the taste of clean foods – but one of the most surprising revelations of my bodybuilding stint involved the value of junk foods. John Meadows touches on that point here:
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Flat vs full. It is amazing how some extra calories can give you a completely different look. This was 2 days apart. What are your favorite foods to get loaded up on for that full look? I would say for me its old school burger and fries, or a combination of steak, sorbet, and nutrigrain bars. Loading up on clean food like baked potatoes always blew my stomach out…just too much food volume.
Simply put, there are times when you can’t shovel down enough clean food without either feeling sick or getting really, really bloated. In those situations, typical “junk” foods – sugary, rapidly-digesting, processed, calorically-dense foods – can actually really be valuable.
Don’t take this as an excuse to eat a ton of low-quality food!
Cheat meals should be used strategically, even in the offseason. My coach, Justin, places cheat meals at the end of the highest-calorie day of the week, to allow for even more of a caloric surplus on those days, and this strategy has worked quite well for me so far.
Now, just because those are my favorite bulking foods doesn’t mean I eat them all the time. Here’s what a typical high-carb day of eating looks like for me:
- Meal 1: 100 grams cream of rice, 2 slices sprouted grain bread, half a banana, 1 cup egg whites
- Meal 2: protein pancakes made with rice flour
- Intraworkout: 50 grams cluster dextrin, 20 grams EAA
- Meal 3: 150 grams cream of rice, whole banana, 1 scoop protein powder
- Meal 4: 150 grams jasmine rice, 6 ounces lean ground beef
- Meal 5: same as meal 4
- Meal 6: same as meal 1, or cheat meal
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I should be in "PR bodyweight" territory by tomorrow morning… wondering how this past will look with 20 pounds of extra muscle! And how much I'll be able to squat 😁 It's still a long way away, though. What do you do to stay motivated to achieve your LONG TERM goals? Do you even set them? In my opinion, long term goals are great, but you need SHORT TERM goals as well. Otherwise, you're likely to lose motivation when you hit those inevitable setbacks. I like to set weekly bodyweight goals and monthly strength goals to help keep myself on track. Photo by @itbejasonyo 🙏 #swolegoals #longtermgoals #shorttermgoals #baldisbeautiful #dcfitness
Notice that I save the whole eggs for my low- and medium-carb days, and don’t always have a cheat meal – only when my body is really asking for one. You must use your foods like tools: strategically, not haphazardly.
Lastly, remember that it’s not just about food choices. I firmly believe food choices are the most important aspect of getting in “decent” shape, but if you’re serious about your training and physique, you need a serious diet plan. That diet plan, in turn, needs to work with your training and your goals to produce the ultimate results.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page.