Bulking is a word that you see everywhere whether you’re a gym-goer, fitness fanatic, or just like to look after yourself. So, bulking strategy is most commonly used in the following ways:
- Bulking like an idiot – consuming large amounts of junk food to ramp up the calories, forcing the body to build muscle and accept a huge amount of fat gain too. Now, this kind of bulking is completely unnecessary and most of the time, unsuccessful.
- Bulking like a boss – the practice of eating a surplus of healthy foods to boost your calorie intake, whilst accepting some fat gain too. This type of bulking is great for someone who has a hard time gaining muscle. We’re talking to those “hardgainers” and naturally slim guys.
Right, now we’ve given you more of an insight into the different bulking methods people tend to follow, let’s see what else we can find out.
Those that get gains easily, and those that don’t
So, the more anabolic you are, the less of a surplus you’ll need to increase muscle mass. In order to keep this as simple as possible, just remember “anabolic” as muscle growth and “catabolic” as muscle breakdown.
Being anabolic does not mean that you’re on steroids. Unsurprisingly, anabolic steroids are anabolic, meaning they build muscle. However, our bodies also produce anabolic and catabolic hormones and enzymes.
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As an example, testosterone, growth hormone, insulin, and IGF-1 are all naturally produced by your body and all anabolic. Then, there are enzymes luke mTOR; this is indirectly anabolic as they initiate anabolic processes. Enzymes such as these can do this by increasing protein synthesis to boost muscle mass.
Due to the fact we are all different, not everyone produces the same level of endogenous anabolic hormones. Sadly, nature chooses not to believe in dividing gains equally. Some of us are able to naturally produce a small steroid cycle naturally, whilst others may have the anabolic hormone levels of a castrato.
It then doesn’t come as a surprise to find out that those with naturally higher levels of anabolic hormones or androgen receptors, will find it easier to build muscle. These, we call easy-gainers. So, you then have the opposite of this which are those with a lower level of anabolic hormones. This type of person will have a more difficult time building muscle, aptly named, hardgainers.
There are then other factors that may affect how much muscle you can build. Myostatin expression levels as well as the ratio of fast-twitch fibers (ACTN3), play a significant role in this. For instance, slow-twitch fibers don’t have much growth potential, whereas fast-twitch fibers do.
If you’re someone that has a high amount of slow-twitch fibers and not many fast-twitch fibers, it’s likely you won’t be able to become the next Dwayne Johnson. We don’t want to sugar coat it but regardless of what you do, the muscle won’t come.
You’ve then got the catabolic part of the equation to understand. Some of the hormones that our bodies naturally produce are catabolic. Not only do they break down muscle and tissue but also stored energy so it can be used for fuel.
Good examples of this are glucagon, adrenaline, and cortisol. It is usually the case that, the more of these hormones you produce, the more difficult it’ll be to add muscle.
Right, now you want to know how this is anything to do with bulking? Part of it is understanding that food isn’t just energy. It has an impact on many things, including hormones and enzymes. If you’re in a calorie surplus on a diet of carbs and protein, you can expect:
- A possible increase in testosterone levels
- Increased insulin
- Increased IGF-1
- Decreased cortisol
- Decreased glucagon
- Decreased adrenaline
- mTOR works at a more extensive rate
“Normal” vs the anabolic extreme
To show how extreme things can get, we’ll show you an example to illustrate how effective the relationship between food and anabolism is. Now, steroid users can get huge gains, whilst also losing fat. This would suggest that they are building muscle whilst being in a calorie deficit.
However, someone who isn’t using performance-enhancing drugs can’t do that. Many bodybuilders still build muscle whilst maintaining a massive calorie deficit and a body fat percentage of under 7%. No matter how gifted you are, no natural lifter is capable of that. Anabolic steroids and other drugs that boost performance are all guilty of taking your anabolic biochemistry to a much higher level.
Should you be bulking?
- Those who religiously use steroids may be able to build a lot of muscle when in a large deficit.
- Bodybuilders and those alike who use steroids can build muscle whilst in a moderate deficit.
- If you’re anabolically-gifted then you can build muscle whilst in a minimal deficit and still achieve gains at maintenance level calories.
- The natural and average ones will need a small surplus to build a good amount of muscle.
- Sadly, for those hardgainers, you’d need to be in a huge surplus to build muscle.
Simply put, those who don’t have the anabolic gift will need a food surplus in order for the body to be better at adding muscle. Obviously, the downside to this is a higher surplus, which, therefore, means more fat.
This is also because insulin is anabolic to fat, not just muscle cells. For a hardgainer, it seemingly gets worse. If this is you, I am sorry. When you’re in a calorie deficit, it is likely that you’ll lose muscle. So, in order to gain muscle, you’d have to accept more fat.
Also Read: Fact or Fiction: Does dry fasting work?
We understand that this is not ideal in the slightest, but for whatever reason, some have more of an advantage than others. It’s like coming to terms with the fact that if you’re not 6’5”, then you’re not going to be an NBA player. Although, isn’t it interesting that height differences are just accepted, but leanness and muscularity aren’t?
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