Why Your Caloric Surplus is So Important
Well the first and most obvious reason is that building muscle requires energy. You’re asking your body to construct new tissue from the protein in your diet and that means you’re going to need to eat more to provide that energy.
The other reason is that you’re trying to prevent the breakdown of muscle. When you’re low on energy and your body is forced to burn fat, it goes into a catabolic state. First, your body notices that your stomach is empty. This causes a release of ghrelin the hunger hormone.
That then triggers the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, which is designed to encourage your brain to go and seek out food. Your body is now in a ‘catabolic state’ where it will burn fat and use it for fuel.
But that cortisol also triggers the release of something else: myostatin. Myostatin is one of the single biggest enemies of bodybuilders because it tells the body to breakdown muscle. Muscle is very energy demanding and not very energy efficient. As we’ve seen, simply having muscle increases your BMR.
Thus, if you are starving and your body is low on the sugars and ATP it needs to run, it’s going to want to break down that muscle and certainly not prioritize it for building. What’s more, is that this will release some additional energy that your body can then use. So being in a calorie deficit puts you in an anxious, skinny, lean and efficient mode.
Why Your Caloric Surplus is So Important
Conversely though, when you eat large amounts of Caloric Surplus, it lets your muscles swell up because you’re creating the right environment. Your body will store some of that energy as glycogen, right in the muscle cells, to make them look even bigger. And when you provide the correct stimulus for growth, your system will respond by building.
This is also why rest is so important and why you need to train without exhausting yourself. The goal of training is not to burn calories, just to provide stimulus for growth. You’re aiming to get pumped in the gym and then spend the rest of the time eating and resting. I call this living like a lion.
How Many Calories Do You Need?
So the next question is just how many calories you actually need Caloric Surplus in order to bulk. Obviously this is dependent on the AMR as we just worked out… but how many more calories than that should you aim for?
The answer again varies and is dependent on various factors – such as whether you’re more interested in a lean bulk (meaning you add muscle with very little body fat) or a ‘dirty bulk’ (meaning that you add both muscle and fat). A very clean bulk is achievable with something like 150-200 calories a day.
A slightly clean bulk is around 200-300. And if you want to dirty bulk, you could go up to 400-450. Higher than that though and you’re starting to get into fat territory, place a bit of a strain on your body and potentially case acne and other problems. This can also be unhealthy.
Which should you choose?
Well, if you’re someone who is very skinny and you’re just starting out then you can go for a pretty dirty bulk with a surplus of 3-400 calories. Because right now, you’re probably in a position where you want to be a lot stronger. You may have tried to bulk in the past and
been disappointed. But at the same time, you’re a noob which means you have the potential for noob gains.
In other words, you have the potential to bulk up and fast if that’s what you want to do. And in your current situation, it probably is what you want to do as well! What you can then do is to later do a short cutting cycle in order to bring your body fat back down and reveal the definition and striations.
Conversely, if you’re someone who is an average size right now – perhaps a mesomorph – then you may well be a little stocky but also carrying a bit more fat than you want. If you’re already at around 12-15% body fat, then you’ll probably want to avoid adding too much extra and so in that case you’ll do better to bulk a little slower without so much excess.
And finally, if you’re someone who is at or around their genetic potential, or you’re someone who is already in good shape, then a clean bulk is the safest way to go.