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Nutrition | Training Tips

A Personal Trainer’s Guide to Clean Bulking

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Nutrition, Bulking, A Personal Trainer’s Guide to Clean Bulking

Reading time: 4 minutes 45 seconds

Many clients have a goal to gain more total body weight to build muscle. This is commonly referred to as a bulk, putting on mass through weight training and eating extra calories.

To gain muscle mass and weight you must be in a calorie surplus. To hit that surplus, many clients reach for junk food because it is often higher in calories. If a client feels that they can eat less, eat foods they enjoy, and gain weight faster, why wouldn't they? 

However, consuming unhealthy foods to help you put on weight faster is not your best option. It is your job as a trainer to help clients make healthier choices in achieving that caloric surplus. This takes effort and planning.

Let’s look at why a clean bulking diet is a better option to bulk up. And how to do so effectively.

Important Factors to Consider When Gaining Weight

To progressively gain weight you must be eating in a calorie surplus—consuming more calories than you burn each day. By doing this your body is able to replenish lost nutrients and still have left over energy to store, which translates to weight gain. 

Consider the following important factors in determining your total daily expenditure: 

  • Basal metabolic rate
  • Activity level
  • Exercise
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Height

These allow you to calculate your total daily expenditure unique to the amount of energy your body burns.

If you end up burning more calories than you consume, your body composition may improve. But it is likely you will lose weight and not gain much muscle mass.

Don’t let your clients get caught up in the idea of “the more I eat, the more muscle I will gain” either. If they have this mentality, they will end up increasing their body fat percentage. It is impossible to avoid not gaining any bit of fat while bulking because you’re eating in a calorie surplus. But overdoing it is not ideal. The goal is to gain lean mass.

Calorie Quality vs Quantity

There are two types of calories.

  1. Clean or healthy calories that provide micronutrients
  2. Dirty or unhealthy calories that provide minimal nutrients 

The difference between these is the amount of micronutrient content they provide. Healthier choice foods provide higher quality protein, carbs, and fats. Whereas unhealthy foods are often incomplete proteins, simple sugars and unhealthy trans fat. If at the end of the day all that matters is calories in vs calories out, then how does this affect bulking?

Clients often choose unhealthy foods because it’s easier to hit their calorie intake requirement. Plus, who wouldn't enjoy eating junk food they really like. However, these empty calories do not supply the body and muscles necessary nutrients to help promote muscle growth. This leads to decreased fat burn and energy generation.

They contribute to making you feel lethargic, tired, and fatigued. This diminishes performance levels due to no stored glycogen in muscles. Without glycogen, the working muscles do not have long lasting energy.

If you lack nutrients you can expect to gain more fat and lose lean muscle mass. This is what truly reflects total body weight during dirty bulking.

If you have clients who have trouble preparing their meals or are on the run a lot here are some healthy eating options to provide them.

The Goal of Clean Bulking

The goal of the bulking phase, in general, is to gain as much muscle growth as possible with minimal fat gain. Since your body is taking in a higher calorie diet, you will still increase total body weight and gain some fat. 

Clean or lean bulking is the healthiest option to minimize fat gain and maximize muscle growth. It will provide more benefits to overall health. If you decide to dirty bulk and gain 10 lbs., yet 8 lbs. of that weight is fat mass, when you cut down, you really only gained 2 lbs. of muscle.

If you switch to clean bulking and gain 10 lbs. and 3 lbs. of that is fat, you’ll have 7 lbs. of muscle when you cut down the excess fat. This is what you want to experience.

Have clients monitor their progress by aiming for 0.5-1 lb. gain each week. Anything more than this is too much. And anything less means they're not eating enough.

Minimize the chance for health risks by eliminating processed foods. If you need help monitoring this utilize the 80/20 approach. Your diet should consist of 80% clean food and 20% other foods you’d like to enjoy.

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Nutrition, Bulking, A Personal Trainer’s Guide to Clean Bulking, Healthy Fats

Choosing the Right Foods to Eat

Clean eating is easier said than done. Especially when you’re trying to bulk and need a lot more calories than you typically eat. Making healthier choices supplies the body with essential nutrients. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for optimal health. 

It may be more difficult to find healthy foods high in calories compared to some unhealthy choices, but clean eating leads to more muscle gain and less fat gain. Ensuring that you consume all macronutrients is essential to putting on muscle.

Healthy Fats

Not all fats are bad. Start by incorporating healthy fat sources high in calories but that also provide essential nutrients.

In general, suggest clients try to keep trans fat out of their diet—especially the type found in processed foods. Saturated fat is slightly better than trans fat, but clients still don’t want to include too much of it in their diet. 

Unsaturated fat is known as “healthy fat.” This isn’t to say clients can eat as much as they want, because this fat is still high in calories, but it’s the best type of fat to choose over the other options.

  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Eggs
  • Cheese

Complex Carbs

Simple carbohydrates, sometimes called refined carbs, are carbs with no more than two sugar molecules. This makes them easier for the body to break down, which mean that they will also raise your blood sugar faster.

Complex carbs, on the other hand, take longer to digest. They don’t cause such immediate (or drastic) blood sugar effects. When eating carbs opt for a complex carbohydrate:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Whole grain bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Granola 
  • Pasta

Lean Protein

Lastly, for lean bulk protein sources, try to stick to mainly lean meat or lean plant-based options. Don’t be afraid to eat red meat either. For your macros, aim for 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. About 35% of your calories each day should come from protein.

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Lean beef
  • Seafood
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Lentils

Achieving a clean bulk is all about balance. Incorporating healthy foods will significantly boost results long term. When most of your diet consists of these, you are then able to enjoy other foods every so often. 

Most of your bulk should be clean to ensure maximal muscle gain. Drive quality results by learning more about the structure, metabolism, and foods to eat to gain quality muscle during strength training. Become an ISSA Nutritionist today and take your clients’ muscle-building goals to the next level.

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