How to adjust your calories as you bulk

written by Philip Stefanov  |  DECEMBER 20, 2022


Your objective with bulking should be to maximize muscle growth and minimize fat gain. Doing so would lead to better results and keep you from doing long and grueling dieting phases afterward.

The best way to achieve these objectives is to control your calorie intake by eating just enough to support growth but not too much so that you gain a lot of unwanted fat.

To do that, you must establish a small calorie surplus and make the necessary adjustments along the way.

Read on to find out precisely how to adjust your calories as you bulk.

But First: Some Important Considerations

Productive calorie adjustments largely depend on two things:

1. Tracking your progress closely (average body weight, circumference measurements, gym progress, etc.).

2. Tracking your calories every day and being detail-oriented.

Progress tracking is crucial for gauging if you’re moving in the right direction. The more variables you track, the more accurate you will be. Don’t increase your calories unless you’re sure you’re not gaining weight and muscle.

In addition, you must pay careful attention to your intake:

  • Weigh everything, especially calorie-dense foods like peanut butter
  • Write down everything you eat, drink, and snack on in a day

There is no point in worrying about your exact calorie intake if you don’t put enough effort into tracking it accurately. 

How to Make Calorie Adjustments During a Bulk

You should pay attention to your body weight when deciding whether to adjust your calorie intake. Bulking is about controlled weight gain; if yours stays the same for an extended period, it likely means you’re not in a big enough calorie surplus.

Here are some weight gain recommendations:

  • Beginner - 1 to 1.5 percent of body weight per month
  • Intermediate - 0.5 to 1 percent of body weight per month
  • Advanced - less than 0.5 percent of body weight per month

For example, a 180-lb beginner can gain up to 2.7 lbs per month, whereas an advanced lifter at the same weight should gain no more than 0.9 lbs per month.

We can further break these down into weekly objectives by dividing the value by four. A beginner can gain more than half a pound per week, whereas the advanced trainee might be on the right track without seeing much weight gain from week to week.

Making calorie adjustments requires patience, and not gaining weight for a week isn’t enough to suggest increasing your food intake.

As a rule, you should track body weight closely for at least three weeks before deciding. Here is an example of an intermediate-level trainee during a bulk:

Day

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Monday

176.4 lbs

176.7 lbs

177.1 lbs

Tuesday

177.0 lbs

176.9 lbs

177.4 lbs

Wednesday

176.7 lbs

177.1 lbs

177.2 lbs

Thursday

176.7 lbs

176.8 lbs

176.9 lbs

Friday

176.8 lbs

176.9 lbs

177.0 lbs

Saturday

176.5 lbs

176.6 lbs

177.2 lbs

Sunday

176.6 lbs

177.0 lbs

176.9 lbs

Average

176.6 lbs

176.8 lbs (+0.2 lb increase)

177.1 lbs (+0.3 lb increase)

In this case, we can see steady weight increases from week to week, roughly in line with the recommendation of 0.5 to 1 percent per month, so it wouldn’t make sense to increase the calorie intake now.

Let’s now look at a beginner:

Day

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Monday

161.2 lbs

161.7 lbs

162.4 lbs

Tuesday

161.4 lbs

161.9 lbs

162.6 lbs

Wednesday

161.8 lbs

162.2 lbs

162.3 lbs

Thursday

161.6 lbs

162.0 lbs

163.1 lbs

Friday

161.9 lbs

162.2 lbs

162.8 lbs

Saturday

162.0 lbs

162.4 lbs

162.7 lbs

Sunday

161.8 lbs

162.1 lbs

163.2 lbs

Average

161.6 lbs

162.0 lbs (+0.4 lb increase)

162.7 lbs (+0.7 lb increase)

In this case, the rate of weight gain is more aggressive but falls in line with the recommended 1 to 1.5 percent per month. In this case, that would mean gaining 1.6 to 2.4 lbs every four weeks or so.

If we assume that the person is following a solid training program, getting at least seven hours of sleep, and eating enough protein (at least 0.7 grams per pound), they are likely on the right track and don’t need to change their calorie intake.

Should you decide to increase your calories, add no more than 100 to 200 to your daily intake. Anything above that would increase the risk of making the surplus too big, resulting in excessive fat gain.

In terms of macronutrient adjustments, try boosting your calorie intake by eating slightly more protein and carbs, keeping your fats limited to around 0.4 grams per lb. Some data suggests that overfeeding on a low-protein, high-fat diet can result in significant fat gain.

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,
Philip

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