The Ultimate Guide to Lean Bulking

How to Efficiently Build Muscle Without Turning into a Slob in the Process 

So you finally decided that it’s time you added some muscle mass.

Good job, I’m proud of you.

The first step to getting big is to be so fed up with being weak, skinny and frail that you promise to do whatever it takes to make a change.

What you’ll soon learn if you haven’t already, however, is that when it comes to seeking advice on how to gain muscle, there’s so much contradicting information it will make your head spin.

The “strategy” for building muscle that we will be discussing in this article is one that many guys find themselves using only after getting poor results following “traditional” advice. They see the light.

So, whether you’ve already got a few years lifting experience under your belt or are a complete noob that’s looking to get off on the right foot, you’ve come to the right place.

Lean bulking is probably the most efficient way to add muscle without ruining your physique for half the year, and it’s a simple concept.

Let’s get started:

Why Old School “Bulking” Sucks and How It Can Ruin Your Physique

I remember when I first got into the lifting game. I was given the age old diet advice on how to get big:

Eat 5-6 small meals a day, snack on some dry protein bars when you can, and you’ll get big bro.”

And so I did just that for the first 6 months of my lifting career. I felt like a true bodybuilder dragging my Tupperware around with my boring plain old chicken and rice.

And you know what… I actually got bigger. I started putting on some size.

Then I learned about GOMAD.

That’s just a fancy acronym for a Gallon Of Milk A Day. That’s right, on average I was consuming about a gallon milk of per day along with everything else and lifting hard.

I was stuffing myself like a pig because apparently you gotta “Eat big to get big”, right?

The old school formula was:

Eat Like a Pig + Lift Heavy + Sleep Like a Baby

And I mean, who was going to argue with that? That mantra has been in practice for over a century by all the meatheads and it apparently worked. You’d bulk like crazy for the majority of the year during winter, then you’d cut all that fat right before summer to get those nice shredded abs for the beach.

Sounded good in theory.

But here’s what  happened:

Sure, I gained some muscle mass, but I also gained huge amounts of fat. I was left with a huge arse, a double chin, and a gut to top it off. Sweet!

This outcome is not uncommon for a lot of guys; pretty typical in fact.

Cutting and dropping those extra 40lbs of fat took about half the year which could have been used to gain more muscle.

If only those meatheads had told me the whole truth. They just forgot one really important detail that would have saved me so much time:


No way could I eat donut after donut and eat crazy high calories unless I was shooting up all types of drugs, and it wasn’t something I was prepared to do.

Lean Bulking: A Better Way to Gain Muscle Mass Naturally

Packing on muscle mass without the aid of pharmaceuticals is a slow, gruelling process.

That’s where discipline comes in.

A well structured and executed work out plan is paramount, and when it comes to your diet, it’s not just about stuffing your face with whatever food you find in the house.

How to Lean Bulk in 4 Steps:

  • Step 1: The very first step is to get down to about 10% body fat. They don’t call it lean bulking for nothing. Yes I know you’re going to look even skinnier than you already are, but it’s worth it. Trust me, you don’t want to go through what I did. It’s better than taking one step forward, and two steps back. If you are over 15% body fat, lose that belly now. Not only will it save you from being a fatso by the time you are done bulking, research shows men gain more muscle and are more “anabolic” when under 15%. Go figure!
  • Step 2: Once you have reached about 10% body fat and have visible abs, you’ll eat at maintenance for about 2 weeks. This is to reset physiological adaptations (hormones) caused by dieting. Bulking right away after cutting without this 2 week phase is a recipe for disaster and asking to get all that fat back in a matter of weeks.
  • Step 3: Great, now is the time to calculate your calories and macros. More on that later. You’ll want to eat just slightly above maintenance because your body can only build so much muscle in a month. Anything more and it is converted to fat gains. Shudder. The lean gains have begun. When you plateau, just add about 100 calories more to your daily caloric goal. Aim for about 2 pounds of muscle growth per month.
  • Step 4: Once you have reached about 15% body fat, say over a span of 7 months+ (If you’re doing it right), then it’s time to cut again. Wash, rinse, repeat until you have reached your desired physique.

The Moral of The Story

That’s what it looks like as far as diet goes. The underlying theme is to stay lean and eat only a small surplus every day (while hitting your target macros). The misconception that the more you eat will mean you’ll gain more muscle is actually bizarre when you think about it. If that was the case, every fat person would be muscular.

Training is the stimulant for growth and how you train is very important. If you have been duped by the same meatheads or “broscientists” who told you to eat everything in sight, you are probably also one of the people in the gym doing crazy amount of volume workouts and 10 sets on your bench.

There’s no problem with having volume in your workout; there is a time and place for it. But as far as you are concerned, as a natty, your goal is to get stronger.

If you’re not getting stronger, you are not getting bigger. Bench the same 135lbs for 10 sets till next year and you will still end up with the same unimpressive body. Guaranteed!

Start repping out 225lbs and people quickly will look at your chest boulders in amazement and quietly wonder if you’re related to Thor.

Again, this only applies if you are a natural and not using performance enhancement drugs.

If you were hoping you could truly get away with eating as much as you want, all in the name of “bulking”, sorry to burst your bubble.

Here’s the new improved formula for gaining muscle:

Eat a Small Surplus + Get Stronger + Sleep Like a Baby = Growthmode

That’s basically it ladies and gents. Once I started doing that, I noticed a dramatic aesthetic increase in my next couple of bulks that came after.

Size was more noticeable and easier to track. I didn’t have a beer belly and still maintained at least somewhat of a six pack. What do you know, I can really get used to this.

We’ve focused more on the diet side of things here which more determines a lean bulk, but of course a well thought out and executed work out plan is just as important, and as much quality sleep as possible!

Aim to get a good 8 hours of sleep a night because that’s when muscle growth happens. Training is simply a stimulus to break down those muscle cells and nutrition is the fuel to help restore the regrowth of those cells.

The healing/growth actually happens while sleeping. This is also the optimum time when good ole’ testosterone is produced, so take advantage of this and get your sleep. Your grandma knew best.

Taking Things to the Next Level

So now you know the philosophy behind lean bulking. Forget the “old school” method of bulking and cutting; leave that to the 90’s bodybuilders and steroid users.

For the natural aspiring athletes, get lean first if you aren’t already, give your body some time to adjust, then eat at a slight surplus to allow just enough for expected muscle growth. No more.

With a firm understanding of this foundation, there are of course some helpful specifics for carrying out a successful lean bulk. Read the next part of this lean bulking guide to learn how to calculate target calories and macronutrient ratios, as well as tips and tricks for making the whole process more enjoyable.

Read Next: Lean Bulking Part 2: Calories and Macros