Fitness Pros Use Holiday Weight to Gain Muscle Faster

Jennifer E. Engen
  • Bulking means intentionally gaining weight to build muscle more effectively. 
  • Don’t be afraid of bulking if you want to look fit, an expert said, but plan strategically.  
  • To maximize muscle gain and stay lean, aim for a modest calorie surplus and lift weights.

‘Tis the season for making gains — winter is the traditional time for bodybuilders to take advantage of rich meals and holiday treats to pack on more muscle.

If your goal is a strong, fit physique, you can strategically follow their lead, according to Layne Norton, a nutrition and fitness coach, bodybuilder, and power lifter with a PhD in nutrition. 

Bulking means intentionally gaining weight by eating in a calorie surplus (more than you burn off), often combined with lifting weights to prompt muscles to grow. 

While you don’t have to time it with the seasons, bulking in colder weather offers more flexibility to enjoy the festivities.

“There’s quite a bit of pragmatism to bulking in the winter. Trying to diet during the holidays is not something I recommend, since you’re setting yourself up for disappointment,” Norton said.

Social media sometimes scares people away from bulking,  since there’s pressure to stay lean year-round.

But constantly dieting can backfire: muscles helps create an athletic appearance, and it takes calories to build them, he told Insider.

“I think most people drastically underestimate the amount of muscle that is necessary to look fit so they focus on fat loss and they’re disappointed when don’t get the look they expect,” he said. 

Instead, embracing the weight gain can help you look more ripped long-term. Eating a little extra while lifting heavy can fuel your gains, and proper timing and patience make it easier to stay lean while bulking, according to Norton. 

Bulking can ramp up your gains

If you’re a total beginner at the gym, you may experience body recomposition, gaining muscle at the same time as losing fat. But the newbie gains disappear over time. Once you’ve been going to the gym regularly, plateaus are likely if you’re under eating.

Bulking while consistently strength training can boost muscle gains. 

“If you want to maximize muscle gain, being in a surplus is a helpful tool,” Norton said. 

Bulking is especially helpful if you have a habit of excessive calorie restriction, since you’ve likely been depriving your body of the energy it needs to grow muscle. 

Aim for a small calorie surplus to gain muscle while minimizing body fat

Though the goal of bulking is often to maximize muscle gain, some portion of the weight gain will include body fat, which is why many bodybuilders also do

weight loss

or “cutting” phases. 

To stay as lean as possible while bulking, don’t overdo it, Norton said. Start by knowing how many calories you need in a day to maintain your current weight, and add about 10-20%, he said. For example, someone who needs 2,000 calories a day to maintain would add 200-400, for a total of 2,200-2,400 on a bulk. 

As for how you get your calories, Norton said to eat about gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Try to eat a wide variety of foods, and avoid extremes of either low-carb or low-fat, he said. 

Be patient — don’t end a bulk early or try to rush it

People often make the mistake of impatience during a bulk, either overeating or quitting when gains happen slowly, according to Norton. 

“People end up chasing their tail if they get tired of waiting. Lean tissue only grows so fast,” he said. 

Research suggests it’s realistic to gain a pound or two of muscle per month, depending on factors like training level. 

If you also want to lose fat, give yourself time to bulk for at least three months, and make your weight loss phase half as long as a general rule, Norton said.

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