Illustration of a skinny bodybuilder eating a bulking diet.

Bulking Diet Guide: How to Eat for Muscle Growth

This bulking diet guide covers everything you need to know about eating for muscle growth. This is how bodybuilders have traditionally bulked up, how athletes gain lean mass, and what modern science shows is the most effective way to fuel muscle growth.

Cassandra used this diet to gain over twenty pounds, I’ve used it to gain over sixty pounds, and Marco used it to gain over seventy. We also use it to help our clients bulk up, both in person and online. Those clients range from desk workers to college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

There are five parts to this guide:

  1. How much do you need to eat?
  2. What if you stop gaining weight?
  3. How much protein, carbs, and fat you should eat?
  4. What does a healthy bulking diet look like?
  5. What foods and meals should you eat?

Don’t expect to be shocked or thrilled. There’s nothing controversial here. These are well-known and well-studied principles with decades of tradition behind them. That’s by far the best way to get reliable results.

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Illustration of a skinny guy trying to build muscle but failing to gain weight, even though he's eating in a calorie surplus.

Why Aren’t You Gaining Weight in a Calorie Surplus?

You used a bulking calorie calculator, which told you how many calories you needed to gain weight. Then, you meticulously tracked your calories for several weeks, logging every single food that went into your mouth. And yet, somehow, you haven’t gained any weight. Or perhaps you gained weight during the first few weeks, but now the fount has run dry.

I struggled with this for years. It’s one of the most common questions we get from skinny clients. It’s rooted in a basic misunderstanding, and the solution is very simple, but you won’t like it.

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Illustration of a vegan bodybuilding eating a high-calorie plant-based bulking diet.

High-Calorie, High-Protein Vegan Bulking Meals (With Recipes)

We’ve already covered whether vegan diets are good for building muscle and explained how to bulk on a plant-based diet. Now, let’s arm you with some vegan bulking meals. All of these recipes are nutritious, high in calories, and high in protein.

You might worry you won’t get enough protein, but most plant-based foods have some protein, and with all these extra calories coming in, it adds up quickly. I think you’ll be surprised at how simple this can be.

If you make your diet out of these meals, they’ll give you 3,000 calories and nearly 200 grams of protein. That’s more than enough protein to maximize your rate of muscle growth.

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Illustration of a skinny guy using the Vertical Diet to bulk up and build muscle.

The Vertical Diet: Full Overview & Review

The Vertical Diet is a bulking diet designed to help people get bigger, stronger, and fitter. It’s supposed to make it easier to eat enough food to gain weight, thus supporting muscle growth and strength gains.

The diet is especially popular with professional bodybuilders and strongmen who use performance-enhancing drugs. Stan Efferding says he invented the diet to mitigate the harms of those lifestyles. But it’s supposed to be healthy for everyone. Is it?

We’re natural lifters, and we’re more interested in health than professional bodybuilding, but we’ve helped college, professional, and Olympic athletes bulk up. We know how to train and diet for elite performance.

Here’s our overview and review of the Vertical Diet.

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Illustration of a skinny guy bulking up fast.

What’s the Best Way to Bulk Up?

There are a few different ways to bulk. You could bulk dirty or cleanly, aggressive or leanly, or anywhere in between. I’ll explain the pros and each so that you can pick the style of bulking that’s best for you.

We’ve been helping people bulk up for over a decade now, with clients ranging from geriatric deskworkers all the way to college, professional, and Olympic athletes. We can help you to do it, too. The results are incredibly consistent.

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Illustration of a bodybuilder eating a bulking meal to build muscle.

The Best High-Calorie Bulking Meals (With Recipes)

One of our most popular articles is about how to eat a good bulking diet. It covers all the most important principles—calories, macros, how to choose nutritious foods, how to calculate your calorie needs, how to adjust those calories based on your results (or lack thereof), and so much more.

However, it doesn’t give many examples of good bulking meals, and it doesn’t have any recipes. That’s where this article comes in. These are some of my favourite bulking meals. I’ve used them to gain 70 pounds, and we’ve been using them with clients for over a decade now. I’ll give you recipes for all of them, with the calories and macros calculated out.

Feel free to ask questions. I’ll answer all the comments.

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Illustration showing a plant-based bodybuilder building muscle on a vegan diet.

Can You Build Muscle on a Vegan Diet?

A new study by Pinckaers and colleagues found that plant-based protein wasn’t as good as animal protein for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. This is just one of several studies, so it probably shouldn’t have, but it sparked some controversy online.

Muscle protein synthesis is when your body adds protein to your muscles, so studies like this can make it seem like vegan diets aren’t good for building muscle. But higher rates of muscle protein synthesis don’t always cause higher rates of muscle growth.

To see how much muscle you can build on a vegan diet, it’s much better to look at studies that measure actual muscle growth. Fortunately, there have been quite a few of those.

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Illustration of a skinny bodybuilder staring at a tub of whey protein, wondering how much protein he should eat at breakfast.

How Much Protein Should You Eat at Breakfast to Build Muscle?

There are two recent studies that I found interesting. The first looked at whether going from a low-protein breakfast to a moderate-protein breakfast would improve muscle growth. The second looked at the effects of going from a moderate amount of protein to a massive amount of protein.

If we look at both studies, we get a pretty good idea of how much protein you should eat at breakfast.

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Photo of Shane Duquette and Jared Polowick's bodies before Bony to Beastly.

How We Went From Skinny to Muscular (+70 Pounds of Muscle)

Jared and I were skinny graphic designers. We didn’t know anyone who ate a good diet, lifted weights, or exercised. We didn’t know anyone fit or muscular. But I was clinically underweight and suffering from early signs of cardiovascular disease, and Jared had crippling tendonitis that prevented him from working his desk job.

We didn’t know anything about building muscle. I thought we could gain all the muscle we needed with a 30-day bulking challenge, and I convinced Jared to try it with me. That’s how “Muscle May” began. That’s what inspired our entire Bony to Beastly business.

After 30 days, we’d gained over thirty pounds between us. It was working. We were finally gaining weight! So we doubled down, extending our pact for another three months. By the end of those three months, we’d gained almost 60 pounds of muscle between us. Since then, I’ve gained another 30 pounds.

Here’s the full story of how we went from skinny to muscular.

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