The Big Question of Bulking!

The biggest question that I get asked all the time is how can I put on weight, how can I bulk up? It's a very difficult question to answer because it all depends on what you are trying to achieve and whether you play sport or not.

The biggest question that I get asked all the time is how can I put on weight, how can I bulk up?

It's a very difficult question to answer because it all depends on what you are trying to achieve and whether you play sport or not. For a lot of people "Bulking" implies that you get big at all costs, and then you cut weight to get shredded.

I think unless you are a professional bodybuilder you should be able to gain muscle and retain shape! Even proper bodybuilders appear to gain size whilst retaining some sort of shape. Although they will go through the most rigorous cutting routines in order to peak for a show.

However if you are playing sport, or want that beach body then you should aim to gain functional muscle and low body fat.

There was only one period of time during which I actually aimed to put on weight and that was part of the early days of my Rugby training with Wasps. Myself and Tom Rees were locked in the Wasps gym with the motto "Get big or die trying". Like everyone out there we both found it very hard and whilst we probably got the weight training intensity correct, we were nowhere near nutritionally the levels required to really sustain our endeavours.

If you are looking to put on size then your first port of call has to be your diet. If you email me and say "I am training five times a week and eating well but I can't put on weight" I have little or no doubt when asked what you are eating and how much of it, you will be a long way off. There are of course hard gainers but for most people, it will all ultimately be down to not eating the correct food in the correct volumes.

One very important thing to note for all the young kids out there, is that being big does not make you a good or better rugby player.

Don't just rush out to the gym. You need to understand that what is truly important is how fit you are how powerful you are and crucially how good you are at the core skills of rugby. Saying you get knocked off in tackles is no doubt nearly always down to poor technique or lack of commitment. By all means start working out but please don't see it as "the be all and end all" of what you need to do. For young guys my oft repeated advice is to crack on with bodyweight work BEFORE you start with trying to lift heavy weights.

So What Actually Is Bulking?

It is a word that is thrown around regularly, especially in bodybuilding and rugby in recent years.

Essentially ...

Bulking is eating more calories than is required; with the aim of trying to increase muscle mass. This does not mean you should look to eat take-aways regularly, drink sugary drinks or eat lots of junk. I've made this mistake myself. If I was to look to "bulk" now, there would be a few things that I would consider first.

Firstly you must ask yourself the following questions


..... If the answer is for sport (e.g. rugby) then be very careful. Increasing weight may not make you a better player. Imagine putting extra weight in the boot of your car. Will it perform better? Make sure you increase the engine while you add the weight (LIFT HEAVY).


.... Increase calories by 500-1000 a day to make steady gains.


... Eat mainly natural foods to increase calories; nuts, seeds, avocados, beef and sweet potato. If it has to be a sandwich then make it whole meal. Try a bagel.

I also recommend eating loads of green vegetables, chicken and white fish. Brown rice is also a great source of carbs. Look at getting more single ingredient foods into your diet.


.... An easy option is to increase food intake before bed. Porridge, peanut butter, a bagel, pint of milk, almonds and so forth.

500-1000 calories extra a day can come in countless forms. But make an educated and sensible increase.

However please understand there is never a call to eat fast food just to get the calories in. The calories in and calories out calculation is a fundamentally flawed system but nevertheless a good guide line to getting you started.

What you have to think about is the nutritional value of things. Yes, something may have calories, but what vitamins, nutrients does it also contain? What is the fat and sugar content?

At James Haskell Health and Fitness we recommend using calories in and calories out really only ever as a guide. However the real truth is that if you want proper, sustained results you need to be far more considered, understanding and detailed in your approach. Everybody reacts differently to carbs with different previous dieting history and outcomes. This means results will vary widely.

So always look for nutritious food and be prepared for the results to take time. Watch out for anything claiming to be fat-free (these product often contain more sugar) or claiming to be sugar-free (these products inevitably will contain sugar substitutes).

Don't just eat for the sake of eating. This will help fat gain more than muscle gain.

However if you are looking to gain weight and get results then you are going to need to increase your meal count to four to five meals a day, perhaps more. This is not an issue providing you are eating the right sort of foods.

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