Illustration of a skinny guy using a calorie tracking app to help him bulk up.

Should You Track Calories While Bulking?

If you ask a bulking guru if you should track calories while bulking, you’ll probably get one of two answers:

  1. If you’re serious about building muscle, you need to Police your calorie intake: You need to track every breath you take, every move you make, every vow you break, every single day, every word you say, every game you play, every night you stay. That’s the only way to figure out how many calories you’re burning and how many you should eat. And figuring that out is the only way to build muscle quickly and leanly.
  2. The second answer is a pushback against that mindset: don’t be so obsessive! You aren’t a bodybuilder. You don’t need to adopt a disordered eating routine to get great bulking results. Just eat intuitively, eat healthy foods, and get in touch with your appetite. You don’t need to track everything. And besides, tracking calories is always imprecise. There’s just no way around it. Nutrition labels are off by like 40%. You’ll never know exactly how many calories you’re eating or burning. Why even bother?

Both of those answers make some good points. Mind you, most gurus arguing against calorie-tracking apps aren’t victims of those apps, they’re beneficiaries. They benefitted from using calorie trackers while bulking. And now, with the very best of intentions, they’re kicking out the ladder that would allow you to catch up to them. In this article, we’ll teach you how to catch up to them.

But on the other hand, you don’t need to track your calories to get great bulking results. There are other ways to eat (roughly) the right number of calories every day. We’ll teach you how to do that, too. It’s not as impossible as it might seem.

Dive Into it
Illustration of a skinny guy eating a lower protein diet while trying to build muscle.

What Happens if You Don’t Eat Enough Protein While Bulking?

Your muscles aren’t made of just protein. They’re actually around 76% water (study). That isn’t to say protein isn’t important. It is. It’s just that since only a small portion of your muscles are made of protein, you actually don’t need to eat that much extra protein to maximize your rate of muscle growth.

The bottleneck for muscle growth is often energy—calories—not your protein intake. If you’re fairly lean or skinny, the best thing you can do to build muscle faster is to stimulate more growth in the gym and then eat more food.

In fact, if you aren’t eating enough calories to gain weight, you may not be able to gain any muscle at all. It can completely halt your muscle growth. If you’re lifting weights and gaining weight, though, you should be able to build muscle just fine, even if you aren’t optimizing your protein intake.

With all of that said, the contractile tissue in your muscles is made of protein. Protein does matter. Plus, you also need protein for the rest of your organs, your hair, nails, and all manner of bodily functions. Eating enough protein is part of eating a balanced diet, and hitting your minimum protein targets will indeed allow you to build muscle faster.

But how much does protein help? And what happens if you don’t eat enough?

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Cartoon illustration of a skinny-fat man with no abs wondering if he's lean enough to bulk.

Are You Lean Enough to Bulk?

Let’s say you’re a skinny guy who’s eager to build muscle. But you aren’t lean. You don’t have much muscle definition. No abs. Maybe you’ve even “skinny-fat.” Are you lean enough to bulk? After all, even if you do a lean bulk, you’ll probably gain at least a little bit of fat. That can be stressful if you’re already feeling too soft.

Plus, many bodybuilders believe that if your body-fat percentage is too high, bad things will start happening if you bulk: you’ll start converting testosterone into estrogen, your insulin sensitivity will crash, it will be harder to build muscle, and you’ll start gaining proportionally more fat. The idea is that if you’re starting off too fat, bulking will only make you fatter. Is any of that true?

How do you know if you’re lean enough to bulk?

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Illustration showing varying degrees of muscularity that women rated for attractiveness.

Survey Results: What Degree of Leanness & Muscularity Do Women Find Most Attractive?

We surveyed 423 women, asking them to rate varying degrees of muscularity and leanness in men, as well as asking them about their favourite muscle groups and ideal proportions. In this article, we’ll go over the results:

  • What’s the most attractive amount of muscle for a man to build?
  • Do women prefer more muscular upper bodies or lower bodies?
  • What muscle proportions do women find most attractive?
  • What’s the most attractive body-fat percentage?
  • Which muscles do women find most attractive?
  • Does neck size affect our appearance?

Here are the survey results.

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What body type do gay men find most attractive?

Survey Results: What Does the Most Attractive Gay Male Body Look Like?

We surveyed 102 men attracted to men, asking them to rate varying degrees of muscularity and leanness. We also asked them which muscle proportions they found most attractive. Topics include:

  • What’s the most attractive degree of muscle?
  • What’s the most attractive body-fat percentage?
  • Do gay men prefer more muscular upper bodies?
  • Which muscles do other men find most attractive?
  • What muscle proportions do gay men prefer?

Here are the results.

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Illustration of a bodybuilder using turkesterone to build muscle.

Does Turkesterone Work?

Is turkesterone a good supplement for building muscle? It’s been promoted everywhere lately—Joe Rogan, More Plates More Dates, Greg Doucette, and Vitruvian Physique have all talked about its benefits. The idea is that it can boost testosterone production, allowing us to build muscle faster and more leanly. But is there any good evidence to back those claims up? And if so, what kinds of results can you expect?

Our specialty is helping skinny guys bulk up. Cutting-edge supplements are a bit outside of our wheelhouse. That’s why we spoke with Eric Trexler, Ph.D. He’s got a doctorate degree in sports science, has published over 30 strength and hypertrophy studies, and professionally reviews research for Monthly Applications in Strength Sport (MASS). This is exactly his area of expertise. We also have a few studies to go over, and the official position of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN).

So, does turkesterone live up to the hype? Will it help you build muscle?

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Are Pre-Workout Supplements Good for Building Muscle?

We’ve seen some heated discussions about ingredients and dosages founds in pre-workout supplements. Does this particular brand have at least six grams of citrulline malate? Is it the correct ratio of citrulline to malate? Is there theanine alongside the caffeine to blunt the jitters? Are they using proprietary blends to hide subpar dosing? Unless you’re super into supplement research, it can be hard to parse.

But the more important question is, will taking a pre-workout supplement actually help you build muscle? Instead of diving right into min-maxing the ingredients and dosages, maybe we should take a step back and see if pre-workout supplements even work.

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Illustration of a skinny guy failing to build muscle even though he's working out, getting him classified as a non-responder.

Are You a Non-Responder to Weight Training?

There’s no doubt that genetics play a role in building muscle. In fact, especially when looking at outliers, genetics can have an enormous impact. If two people do the same workout routine and eat the same bulking diet, one of those people might gain twice as much muscle.

What’s more contentious is the claim that some people can’t build muscle at all. And there’s some truth to that idea. When most people start lifting weights, they build muscle. But not everyone. And these people who don’t gain muscle have been referred to as “non-responders” or “low-responders” in the research.

So what’s going on here? Weight training is supposed to cause us to adapt by gaining muscle size and strength. Why do some people fail to adapt?

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