Illustration of the tortoise and the hare

How Quickly Should You Gain Weight While Bulking?

I remember being skinny and wanting to gain weight FAST. I didn’t just want to be muscular yesterday, I wanted to be muscular in every single one of my previous lives.

We aren’t trying to gain weight, though, we’re trying to gain muscle. And if we bulk up too fast, won’t we become skinny-fat? That can happen. Not to everyone, but it can happen to some of us sometimes. It’s important to understand those risk factors.

Over the past eight years, we’ve helped nearly 10,000 skinny guys bulk up. We’ve helped them bulk fast, we’ve helped them bulk lean, and everything in-between. Even when dealing with naturally skinny guys, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Let’s talk about the pros and cons of gaining muscle quickly versus gaining it leanly. That way, you’ll know exactly how much weight you should be trying to gain on the scale each week.

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Illustration of a margarita

How Much Alcohol is Okay While Bulking?

Maybe you’ve heard that beer builds beer bellies, that alcohol can tank our testosterone production, or that drinking too much can impair muscle growth.

All of this is true. In fact, it gets worse. Alcohol can also disrupt our sleep, which can further reduce muscle growth, cause extra fat gain, and harm our workout performance.

Worse still, alcohol can slow digestion, making it harder for us to digest big bulking diets. It can also negatively impact our appetites, making it harder to gain weight.

However, these aren’t the effects of drinking, these are the drinking too much. As with most good things in life, it’s the dose that makes the poison.

Maybe you’ve even heard that having a drink or two per day is better than having none. Is that true?

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Bulking Set Point and “Muscle Memory”

You could think of your body as having a built-in bodyweight thermostat. You might have your weight set at, say, 130 pounds. If you go above 135, your appetite automatically turns off until you get back to 130 pounds. If you go below 125 pounds, your appetite automatically turns on until you get back up to 130 pounds. There’s more at play here than just your appetite, but you get the idea: your body is automatically regulating your weight around a given “set point.”

When you’re bulking up, you’re fighting that set point. It’s trying to regulate your body weight back down. It’s trying to eliminate all the progress you’ve made.

So how do we get your set point to 150, 180 or even 200 pounds? Is that even possible? That’s what this article is about.

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Illustration of two men arm wrestling

The Pros and Cons of Clean and Dirty Bulking

Should your calories come from clean foods, dirty foods, or does it not even matter? Bulking up requires a calorie surplus, and the faster you want to gain weight, the bigger that calorie surplus will need to be. But where should those calories come from?

There are two popular approaches:

  • Clean bulking: where we get our calorie surplus from healthy foods, building our muscles out of high-quality calories.
  • Dirty bulking: where we eat whatever we want whenever we want, gaining weight by whatever means necessary.

Now, there’s also the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) approach, where you eat the correct number of calories and the correct proportion of macronutrients. However, some people follow IIFYM while dirty bulking, others follow it while clean bulking. It’s a whole separate thing.

I started off severely underweight, and over the course of gaining sixty pounds, I’ve tried both clean and dirty bulking. In fact, I’d credit each approach with around thirty pounds of my overall gains. I’ve failed with both approaches, too.

Then, over the past eight years, we helped nearly 10,000 other skinny guys bulk up, as well as our millions of readers. We’ve watched them use a variety of different approaches, we’ve listened to horror stories, and we’ve celebrated too many successes to count. Seeing so many different people bulk up has added nuance to our opinions over the years.

There’s also quite a lot of research looking into how our food choices affect our ratio of muscle-to-fat gains while overeating. And this research is rarely brought up when discussing the pros and cons of each approach.

So. What’s the best bulking diet? Should we bulk clean or dirty?

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Illustration of several different bulking foods

The Very Best Bulking Foods

What are the best foods for bulking up? It might seem like a simple question, and it is, but if we want to build a truly Beastly bulking diet, we can go pretty deep with it.

For example, junk food is high in calories and easy to digest. Great for gaining weight, right? Absolutely. But it’s also full of empty calories, it’s low in protein, and it may make our digestive systems weaker over time. New research is even showing that foods that are higher in saturated fats and fructose—which is common with junk food—are more likely to be stored as visceral body fat instead of as muscle (study).

Fortunately, there are quite a few foods that are easy to overeat, great for stimulating muscle growth, great for our health, and that can improve our digestion over time.

Furthermore, building a good bulking diet isn’t as simple as just eating a lot of healthy food. For example, the best bulking diets tend to be quite high in foods that break down into glucose. Lower-fibre starches, such as white rice and pasta, are great for this. That’s not common in most other pop-culture diets, such as ketogenic diets, low-carb diets, or paleo diets. This makes bulking diets unique.

Without further ado, here are the very best bulking foods.

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The Best Bulking Supplements for Skinny Guys

Over 5,000 shares and 500 comments later, here’s our revised supplement guide for skinny guys who are trying to build muscle in time for last summer. We’ll cover everything you need to know about supplements that speed up muscle growth, such as creatine, and we’ll go over the supplements that help skinny guys bulk up, such as weight gainers.

To do this, we need to evaluate the research—all of the research. It’s easy to claim that a supplement is effective by showcasing results of a single study, but when we dig into the entire body of evidence, only a few supplements remain standing. This article tries to do that, favouring systemic reviews and meta-analyses over the latest (and often controversial) research.

In addition to leveraging science, we’ve also been in the trenches with this. I’ve personally used these supplements to gain 60 pounds at 11% body fat, and we’ve recommended them to nearly 10,000 members of the Bony to Beastly Bulking Program, as well as the 500,000 people who have read this article.

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Not gaining weight? How to eat more calories while bulking

The Skinny Guy’s Guide to Eating More Calories

Most ectomorphs have trouble eating enough calories to gain weight. There’s a good reason for that, too: we have faster metabolisms and smaller stomachs. Unfortunately, the only way to gain weight is to get into a calorie surplus. I know that’s a tough bite to swallow, especially if you’re already stuffed to the gills, but there’s no way around it.

To make matters harder still, we aren’t just trying to gain weight, we’re trying to build muscle. That adds a few other considerations.

So what we want to do is design a diet around calorie-rich foods that improve our digestion and make it easier to build muscle quickly and leanly.

Let’s call this diet the Ectomorph Bulking Diet.

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Illustration of a beginner, intermediate, and advanced bodybuilder lifter

Are You a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced Lifter?

How can you tell whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter? That’s a good question. The answer can change which bulking lifts you build your routine around, which workout program you pick, how quickly you bulk up, and how quickly you add weight to the bar.

So in this article, we’ll go over the common ways of determining your lifting level. Then we’ll demonstrate why those methods are dumb. And then we’ll cover a more useful way of doing it.

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Illustration of a man going from having bad posture to having good posture

How to Build a Bigger and Straighter Upper Back

A common issue with us skinny guys is that we develop a bony upper back that caves in on itself. Part of that is due to being skinny, so we’ll cover how to bulk up the upper-back muscles. And part of that is due to having poor upper-back posture (kyphosis in the t-spine), which is incredibly common with ectomorphs, given our longer spines and smaller muscles.

The good news is that both of these issues are the same issue. You can think of posture as simply being weakness in the muscles that are supposed to hold your body in the proper position. So if we can bulk up your upper back muscles, we can also simultaneously improve your posture. The trick is to make sure that you’re engaging all of the relevant muscles, including the prime movers and the stabilizer muscles in both your upper back and your core.

So in this article, we’ll teach you how to bulk up your upper back and improve your posture while you’re at it.

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Illustration of a sugar cube

How Much Sugar is Okay While Bulking?

Sugar is often criticized for causing weight gain. It’s a technically just a calorie surplus that causes the weight gain. However, sugar can certainly make it easier to get into a calorie surplus, which can ultimately lead to weight gain.

To quote Amber Bonsall, a Mayo Clinic dietitian:

Eating too much added sugar in processed foods or adding table sugar to your food and drink can quickly pile up the calories and lead to weight gain.

—Amber Bonsall, RD

Weight gain doesn’t scare skinny guys, though. In fact, when we hear that high-fructose corn syrup can facilitate weight gain, we rush off to get all the Aunt Jemima corn syrup we can find.

Or perhaps you took the opposite approach. Maybe you’re trying to bulk up while avoiding processed sugar. There’s certainly no problem with that, and most health experts recommend keeping your added sugar intake quite low anyway—often to around 10% of your total calories.

However, there are also people who try to avoid sugar completely, including the sugars found in fruits and dairy. Although there isn’t necessarily a problem with that, most experts don’t agree with that approach.

So, what effect does sugar have on skinny guys as we bulk up?

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