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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Illustration showing a 16:8 intermittent fasting meal schedule (with no breakfast).

Is Intermittent Fasting Good for Bulking & Building Muscle?

Intermittent fasting is popular for weight loss. But what if you’re a skinny guy trying to bulk up? Can you use intermittent fasting to build muscle faster or more leanly? After all, intermittent fasting raises growth hormone production, which purportedly helps with muscle growth; it increases insulin sensitivity, which could help make your muscle gains leaner; and research shows that intermittent fasting may help preserve muscle when losing weight.

On the other hand, bodybuilders are known for eating frequently—every few hours. They eat more often than the average person. Why is that? Could there be an advantage to eating more meals more often?

Finally, does intermittent fasting make it harder to eat enough calories to gain weight? Skinny guys are notorious for having smaller stomachs, faster metabolisms, and more meagre appetites, all of which can make it harder to eat enough calories to gain weight. Will intermittent fasting make that even harder?

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The best bulking books, courses, and programs for skinny guys trying to build muscle.

The Best Bulking Programs for Skinny Beginners in 2024 (Reviewed)

In this article, we’re reviewing the five best bulking programs for skinny beginners. To get this list, we started by surveying our readers, the vast majority of whom have successfully bulked up. They’re naturally skinny, they’ve tried different bulking programs, and they know firsthand what worked for them. From there, Marco and I critically reviewed the top five programs, taking everyone’s experiences and success rates into account.

We’re also bulking experts ourselves. Marco is naturally skinny, he has a degree in health sciences, he has over a decade of experience as a full-time strength coach, and he’s helped a wide variety of clients bulk up, ranging from everyday skinny guys all the way up to college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

I’m naturally skinny, too, with over a decade of full-time experience helping over 15,000 skinny people bulk up. We live and breathe this niche. Nobody knows more about this than us.

Note: we aren’t reviewing our own bulking program. We’re much too biased.

Note: there are no affiliate links.

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Illustration showing a bodybuilder doing optimized lateral raises to build bigger side delts.

The Best Side Delt Exercises Are Weird Lateral Raises

The overhead press is the best overall shoulder exercise. If you want a minimalist workout routine, that’s all you need. If you really want to build bigger side delts, though, it pays to include an exercise that trains them directly.

Lateral raises are the best exercise for your side delts, and they can take you quite far, but you can do even better. Lateral raises are easy to improve upon. Here’s how.

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Illustration of a bodybuilder holding a heavy barbell and a light dumbbell.

Should You Lift More Weight or Do More Reps to Build Muscle?

The top search result for this question is wrong, and it’s bugging me. There’s this old myth that heavier weights are better for building muscle while lighter weights are better for gaining endurance. That’s not quite right.

Both low-rep and high-rep sets can be equally good for building muscle. Anywhere from 4–40 reps per set stimulates a similar amount of muscle growth. Doing 6–20 reps tends to be a little easier and more efficient. Most bodybuilders lift right in the middle, favouring 8–12 reps.

However, different rep ranges provoke slightly different adaptations. The best way to build muscle is to take advantage of both. A balanced muscle-building program will use a mix of heavier weights and higher reps. More on that in a moment.

This begs another question: when you progressively overload your exercises, should you focus on adding more weight or adding more reps? Both can be equally good for building muscle. It all depends on what exercise you’re doing and what you’re trying to accomplish.

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Illustration showing a skinny guy who gained too much fat while bulking.

Does Bulking Make You Fat?

Bulking can make you fat if you gain weight too aggressively for too long. Eating in a calorie surplus is great for building muscle, but any calories that aren’t invested into muscle growth will spill over into fat gain.

If you’re eating so much food that you’re gaining fat, you might notice, but the changes happen so gradually that many people don’t. In our program, we solve this by having you weigh yourself every week and take new body measurements and progress photos every 5th week. We review those photos together, and we adjust your rate of weight gain.

Other guys like the extra size. They like filling out their clothes. They know they’re gaining fat, but they don’t care, so they keep eating in an aggressive surplus. I don’t have any issue with that. Most of these people never get fat enough to cause a health problem. It’s a purely cosmetic issue, and they prefer how they look when they’re bigger.

If you’re worried about gaining fat, you can do a lean bulk. If you’re already fat, the news is even better. You might be able to lose fat while building muscle.

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Illustration of a skinny man with no abs doing ab workouts to build a bigger six-pack.

The Skinny Guy’s Guide to Building Bigger Abs

It’s common for skinny guys to be lean and still not have abs. That’s because there are two parts to having good muscle definition: body-fat percentage and muscle size. Our body fat percentage is fine, but our abs aren’t big enough.

If you try to search for information about how to get abs, you’ll probably come across one of two recommendations:

  1. Abs are built in the kitchen, not the gym: The idea is to focus less on building bigger abs and more on getting lean enough to reveal your abs. But many of us are already lean enough. You might not need to get any leaner. You might do better by gaining weight.
  2. Abs are built with ab circuits: The most popular ab workouts are high-rep, low-rest circuits. Those circuits will absolutely stimulate muscle growth, but they’re needlessly painful, and they aren’t as effective as hypertrophy training.

Neither of these recommendations is great for us. We need to build bigger ab muscles. We need a proper bulking routine for our abs.

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