Fitness advice: Bulking up is about more than just protein shakes. Here's how to make gains

Harry Thomas
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During initial consultations, clients will often say that they want to lose weight and gain muscle. In theory this is what we all need to do, but in a short space of time, such as three months, you shouldn’t expect to see much muscle actually being added.

While most of the top transformations at No1 Fitness will look like that they’ve built a lot of muscle, in fact what has happened is that they’ve lost a great deal of body fat. The muscle is more defined and looks lean.

We use the Boditrax machine to reveal how much fat has been lost and how much lean tissue has been gained. In a time frame of three months, it will show that muscle gain is fairly minimal. However, the quality of muscle will have improved hugely. The muscle will have become more reliant and stronger, so even though you’re not making big gains, you shouldn’t worry too much.

If your goal is to build some size, I would recommend looking at a five to eight month period before seeing some real gains. There are so many factors to building muscle, and it takes a lot of commitment, patience and hard work. However, the results are well worth it.

Setting goals and measuring progress
Having a goal to work towards is important when it comes to achieving results. Set a deadline a few months from now. What do you expect or want to see within that time? How are you going to be measuring your progress, to show that it’s working?

For example, let’s say you want to put on 5kg of muscle. If you only pay attention to the scales the entire time, you are effectively failing until you reach that number.

Instead, decide where you want to see that mass. Take photos and circumference measurements of your legs or arms, and check readings on a machine like Boditrax. You’ll start hitting goals while you put on the weight. The key is to see progression throughout, to keep yourself motivated and on track.

Giving yourself a timeline is a great way to succeed, as it will allow you to make changes throughout your training. If you have two months to go before deadline day and you’re not happy with the progress, you can up the intensity or eat more calories to help build mass.

The training
Our style of training is slightly different to most other PT companies in London. Although we specialise in transformations, we do a lot more movement-based exercises and use fewer machines.

That being said, machines were built for bodybuilders. They’ve worked for the last 50 years and they’re still one of the most effective ways to bulk. I recommend combining both styles of training to help build, but also help you move better and reduce the risk of injury. I always ask clients whether they’d prefer to just be bulky, or bulky and move well, and there is normally only one answer.

I recommend at least four sessions every week. Anything less than that and you won’t get the best of results. Split routine still seems to be the most effective way to help put on mass. Each session will have a specific body part as the focus, and then we add our own elements into that. During each session we would do at least 18-24 sets for that muscle.

However the entire body will be worked too, as that’s how our bodies work in real life. An example week could look like this.

  • Monday: Leg Focus
  • Tuesday: Chest Focus + movement
  • Wednesday: Back Focus
  • Thursday: Full Body Loaded movement (works the legs hard)
  • Friday: Push/Pull Combo + movement

This format works extremely well. It covers all of the major muscle groups, while incorporating cardio-vascular training.

Through the movement training, you’ll start to see how much more mobile and strong the body becomes. You still need to push yourself with each workout.

The nutrition
There’s no way around it. To bulk up you need to eat more food.

Firstly, we need to establish how many calories will be your maintenance level. You can enter your stats into a BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) calculator to find this.

We also get some of our clients to track their food for an entire week using the MyFitnessPal app and see if they put on any weight. If they don’t, then we can use this amount of calorie intake as their maintenance level.

Setting a calorie target goal is difficult, as everyone is different.

Try starting with an increase of around 350-500 calories extra per day, split across different macronutrients.

Protein is the most important macronutrient in regards to building muscle. It contains the amino acids that the body uses to synthesise new muscle tissue.

Although protein is important, people seem to think they need to smash back as much of it as possible.

This is not the case, and there’s little evidence that excessive amounts of protein have a positive impact on muscle growth. Eating too much also comes at the expense of other macronutrients.

A safe amount is 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight. So if you weigh 80kg you should aim to eat 160g of protein per day. The rest of your calories will be made up of carbohydrates and fats.

Carbs and Fats
Both of these macronutrients have had a bad reputation at some point, but both are incredibly important, not just for building muscle but for general good health. Carbohydrates have many positive effects when building muscle. They cause insulin release, which is an anabolic hormone and great for muscle growth. They also help store glycogen, which can be used for energy to help with your workouts and keep energy levels high.

Fats are the body’s preferred stored energy source and the most efficient molecule for the body to burn. It give cell walls structure and support and also helps with the absorption of certain vitamins. Fats are also good for hair and skin.

Unsaturated should be your go-to fat, but don’t cut out saturated completely. It has other benefits.

So how much of each should we eat? To build effective muscle you need to have a good combination of both. Go too high on the fats and you’ll not only lose the benefits of the carbs, but begin to store it in the tissue. Going too low on carbs will affect testosterone levels, which again we don’t want. Here is what we recommend:

  1. Set your calorie goal
  2. Then set your protein goal of 2g per kg of bodyweight
  3. Set your fat macronutrients goal to 20-30 per cent of overall calories
  4. Carbs will then be left as the remaining amount

Stick with it
The hardest part, of course, is to actually do it. Keep monitoring progress, get your workouts in and keep on top of the nutrition.

Harry is a personal trainer and co-owner of No.1 Fitness, with gyms in the City and Tower Bridge. To book a session visit or call 020 7621 1312

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