Illustration of a skinny bodybuilder eating a bulking diet.

The Bulking Diet Guide: How to Eat for Muscle Growth

This bulking diet guide will teach you the basics of eating for muscle growth. This is how bodybuilders have traditionally bulked up, how athletes go about gaining lean mass, and what modern science shows us is the most effective way to build muscle.

We aren’t just regurgitating theory, either. I’ve personally used these methods to gain 65 pounds at 11% body fat. Marco has used them to gain over 70 pounds at an even lower body-fat percentage. Marco then gave these recommendations to the college, professional, and Olympic athletes he trained. And since creating Bony to Beastly, it’s the advice we’ve given to our millions of readers and the 10,000 naturally skinny members who’ve done our programs.

There are three parts to this guide:

  • How much to eat. (And how to adjust.)
  • What proportion of protein, carbs, and fat to eat.
  • What actual foods to eat.

Don’t prepare to be shocked or thrilled. There’s nothing edgy or controversial here. And this isn’t the one and only True way to eat for muscle growth. These are indeed the most effective methods, having been refined by both research and tradition over several decades, but you can modify most of them and still pack on slabs of muscle.

What we’re trying to do with this guide is give you the best default bulking diet, the best foundation to build upon. From there, you can then adjust it as you see fit.

Illustration of a bodybuilder cooking up a muscle-building meal.

The Conventional Bulking Diet

When a revolutionary new diet is proposed, it can appear to have limitless potential. It could be a way to get better results than anyone ever has before. It’s thrilling to think that we’ve finally found the solution. But almost all of these new methods eventually wind up proving to be at least slightly less effective than a more traditional bulking diet.

There are a few reasons for this.

  • This bulking diet is based on research that has been conducted over several decades, with each new study building upon the overall body of evidence, with small tweaks being made here and there.
  • This bulking diet is rooted in the bodybuilding tradition, with the most effective methods being those that have stood the test of time. Also keep in mind most hypertrophy researchers are just dorks in lab coats, they’re also fans of building muscle. They’re dorks, yes, but very muscular ones.
  • This diet is nearly identical to what athletes eat, giving us a whole other tradition and line of research to draw from. After all, most athletes benefit from being bigger, stronger, and more muscular. The same methods that help bodybuilders add muscle also help athletes improve their strength and performance.

Now, is it possible someone has come up with a brand new way to improve on these methods? Of course! This diet isn’t a static thing. It’s been improved and refined many times over the years. All of those improvements were brand new at some point. Thing is, they tend to be incremental improvements. A small tweak results in an improvement that’s barely noticeable. But when enough of those small improvements are combined together, the overall approach grows stronger.

When these improvements have proven themselves in the field and in the lab, they get incorporated into this conventional bulking diet. Have we missed some? Certainly. But they’re probably rather unimportant, and we feel like it’s wiser to wait until there’s more evidence to support them.

As the research currently stands, this is the best bulking diet.

The Calorie Surplus

How Quickly Should You Gain Weight While Bulking?

The most important part of any bulking diet is the calorie surplus. That’s the heart of bulking. That’s what bulking is. That’s what allows us to gain weight, get bigger, and build muscle at full speed.

But how big should that calorie surplus be? How fast should we gain weight? We have a full article digging into the research, but as a rule of thumb, gaining around 1 pound per week allows us to build muscle fairly fast while keeping our gains quite lean (systematic review).

We can do a bit better than that, too. The researchers say skinny beginners are able to gain muscle faster, gaining as many as 1–2 pounds per week without showing much fat gain. We often see the same thing when helping our members bulk up:

Before and after photos showing a skinny guy doing a lean bulking transformation.
A beginner gaining 1–2 pounds per week without much fat gain.

Then, as we build more muscle, we get closer to our genetic potential, and our rate of muscle growth slows. So for intermediate lifters who have already gained their first 20 pounds, a better rule of thumb is to gain 0.5–1 pound per week:

Before and after photo of an intermediate lifter building muscle
An intermediate lifter gaining 1 pound per week without much fat gain.

To be clear, some research shows even faster muscle growth with faster rates of weight gain, even in advanced bodybuilders. But that extra muscle growth often comes at the cost of gaining a disproportionate amount of body fat (study). It usually isn’t worth it. Plus, for every study showing a benefit to gaining weight faster, there’s another study showing people getting super fat by rushing things. We want the best of both worlds: fast muscle growth with minimal fat gain.

Gaining as many as 2 pounds per week can work well for very skinny who are just starting to bulk up. But with such an abundant intake, the risk of fat gain is also great. For most people, gaining more like 0.5–1 pound per week is a good default while bulking.

How to Get Into A Calorie Surplus

There are three main ways you can get into a calorie surplus:

  • Calorie counting: using your body weight and activity levels, you can estimate how many calories it will take for you to gain weight. For example, you could take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 18–22. That’s a good range for most skinny guys eager to bulk up. For someone who weighs 150 pounds, that’s 2,700–3,300 calories per day. For a better shot at leaner gains, use the lower side of that range. To err on the side of faster muscle growth, use the higher side. (We’ve got a more accurate weight-gain calculator.)
  • Adding calories: it takes roughly 500 extra calories per day to gain a pound per week. Therefore, you can gear into bulking by adding 500 calories to the diet you normally eat. This works well for people who eat similar meals every day as part of their routine, giving them a stable base to build upon. The trick is to make sure you keep up with your regular meals even as the awful sense of fullness pervades your life. This is how I bulk now, as a dad who lives on a schedule.
  • Eating 10–15% more: if you don’t want to think about calories at all, you can simply think about eating more. If you increase the size of your meals by 10–15%, that will get you into a reasonable calorie surplus. Again, this works best if your diet is fairly consistent from day to day. This is how most recreational lifters do it. Bulking is an excuse to eat more. Skinny guys often struggle with it.

Choose whichever method you prefer, and don’t worry too much about being perfectly precise. It’s common for beginners to get hung up here, trying to calculate exactly how many calories they’ll burn. Truth is, no calculation, no matter how complex, is accurate enough to be all that useful. This is just a starting point. The sooner you start, the sooner you can refine.

How to Adjust Your Calorie Intake

A common beginner mistake is to fail to gain weight, assume your initial calorie estimates are off, and then go back to the drawing board, redoing those initial calculations. That’s the wrong approach. If you aren’t gaining weight, you aren’t eating enough calories. Add more calories to your diet plan. It’s that simple.

Whatever method you choose, the most important thing is to adjust your daily calorie intake based on how much weight you gain each week. If you’re not gaining weight, add 200–300 calories. If you’re gaining weight too fast, remove 200–300 calories.

For example, if you weigh 150 pounds and start by eating 3,000 calories per day, perhaps your Hellish metabolism is not so easily overcome, and you find yourself failing to gain weight. That isn’t a flaw of the formula, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to stay skinny forever, and it doesn’t mean you need to retreat back to calorie formulas. March onwards. Add more calories.

There’s a bit of nuance here, though. Our weight fluctuates quite a lot. If you weigh yourself before breakfast, you might be a few pounds lighter than you are after dinner. So there are a few tricks to tracking your weight gain:

  • The first week is a wildcard. Hold steady. When you first start bulking, you’re adding extra food into your digestive system, you’re inflating your muscles full of glycogen, and you’re adjusting to a new intake of sodium. As a result, it’s common to see the scale bump up by 2–3 pounds. And that’s great. There’s no need to eat fewer calories if that happens. Just ride it out for another week.
  • Always weigh yourself at the same time of day, controlling for as many variables as possible. For example, weigh yourself every Sunday morning after peeing and before having anything to eat or drink. Even better if your dinner the night before is fairly consistent from week to week. (Or, for even more precision, you can weigh yourself every morning and compare your average weight every Sunday.)
  • If you’re somewhat close, you’re good. If you’re aiming to gain a pound each week, but you gain 0.7 or 1.3 pounds instead, that’s sweet. Those small discrepancies are well within the realm of natural fluctuations. You don’t need to adjust by 100 calories or anything. Just hold steady, you’re doing great.
  • There will come a time when your weight gain will slow. As you get bigger, stronger, and more muscular, you’ll burn more calories. Maybe you can gain 10 or even 20 pounds without needing to adjust your calorie goals. But eventually, you’ll need to add more calories to your bulking diet to continue gaining weight. (Gaining 20 pounds of muscle burns roughly 120 extra calories. But when you’re deep into a bulk, your body will spend calories frivolously. You may notice your metabolism growing ever faster.)

Bulking Macros

What are Macronutrients?

The food we eat contains nutrients. Some nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, don’t contain energy. These are called micronutrients. Other nutrients, namely protein, carbs, fat, and alcohol, do contain energy. These are called macronutrients—macros.

For the purposes of building muscle, we care about three macros:

  • Protein contains 4 calories per gram, breaks down into amino acids, and is used to build muscle (among other things). These are the stones with which we build our castle. This is why protein is the most important macronutrient when bulking.
  • Carbs contain 4 calories per gram, break down into glucose (a simple sugar), and are stored in our muscles as a fuel called glycogen (among other things). Carbs aren’t a necessary part of our diets, but they’re a great source of energy, often come packaged along with fibre, and they make our muscles fuller and stronger. This is the grain in our storehouses we feed our peasants with, giving them the energy they need to toil under the hot sun, laying row after row of stones. Do we need these peasants to build our castle? Do we need to feed them grain? No, but it helps!
  • Fat contains 9 calories per gram, breaks down into fatty acids, and is stored as body fat, which can be slowly burned for energy (among other things). Fat is also important for regulating our hormones, though, and is a source of several fat-soluble vitamins, making it a vital part of our diets. This is the gold in our coffers we use to bribe the corrupt officials who try to limit how many stories we can build.

You don’t need to know any deep science about the macros, but it does help to know what we use them for. The ones we’re most interested in for building muscle are protein (building blocks) and carbs (energy), but that doesn’t mean fat isn’t important, too.

How Much Protein Should You Eat?

When you’re trying to build muscle, a good rule of thumb is to aim for roughly 1 gram of protein per pound body weight per day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, eat around 150 grams of protein each day. Nutrition labels tend to make this easy, listing how much protein there is in each serving. Otherwise, you can weigh your food on a food scale and look up how much protein it contains.

1 gram/pound/day is a rough goal, though. The latest research shows eating as little as 0.7 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day works just as well (2019 systematic review). Similarly, Jose Antonio, PhD, has been doing research for years showing extremely high-protein diets are neither better nor worse for building muscle than moderate-protein diets (study, study, study).

Consuming 5.5 times the recommended daily allowance of protein has no effect on body composition in resistance-trained individuals

Jose Antonio, PhD

What seems to be more important is spreading your protein intake out over the day, eating several meals with protein in them. If you can eat 3–6 meals per day, all of them containing at least 20 grams of protein, then you should be able to build muscle faster and more leanly (2019 systematic review).

As a result, intermittent fasting isn’t recommended while bulking. If you prefer it, it can indeed work, but a more even protein distribution tends to be even better. Plus, intermittent fasting reduces our appetite, making it harder to eat enough calories to gain weight. That’s not a problem for everyone, but it’s often a problem for naturally skinny guys (like us).

Illustration of a chicken, a great source of protein while bulking.

The next question is what types of protein to eat. Fortunately, it doesn’t really seem to matter. We can get our protein from seafood, poultry, red meat, eggs, and dairy. But as we explain in our article on vegan bulking diets, plant-based sources of protein are just as good. Nuts, legumes, grains, seeds, peas, and soy are all great sources of protein, too. The real trick is to make sure you’re getting enough protein.

Graph showing that vegan and omnivorous diets both result in the same amount of muscle growth.
Vegan and omnivorous diets build muscle equally well (2021 Hevia-Larraín study).

So to summarize, a good default is to aim for 1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day, to spread it out over 3+ meals, and to make sure each meal contains at least 20–30 grams. For instance, maybe you have 3 eggs with breakfast, some nuts as a midmorning snack, a bowl of lentil stew for lunch, some chicken with dinner, and a little cottage cheese before bed.

How Much Fat Should You Eat?

Dietary fat isn’t that important for building muscle. Not that you shouldn’t eat any, just that you’re probably eating enough already. When you get into a bulking diet, you probably won’t need to intentionally add any extra.

When bulking, you want something like 0.25–0.75 grams of fat per pound body weight per day, which usually works out to around 15–30% of your total calories. If you aren’t tracking your macros, that’s okay. There’s no need for great precision here.

The thing to keep in mind is how dense fat is. It contains over twice as many calories per gram as protein and carbs. It’s common for people to start tracking their calories only to realize they’re getting 50%+ of their calories from fat. That’s not the end of the world, but if you want to make the fastest and leanest muscle gains possible, it’s probably better to get the bulk of your surplus calories from carbs instead.

Illustration of an avocado, a great source of fat while bulking.

As for where to get your fat, try to choose unprocessed foods. Try to get a mix of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Think about fats like extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, cheese, yoghurt, kefir, eggs, and fatty seafood (such as salmon).

So to summarize, most people already eat enough fat. When you start eating a bulking diet, you’ll probably eat even more. You probably don’t need to intentionally add any extra. If you’re adding 500 calories into your diet at the start of a bulk, you’ll probably want most those extra calories coming from carbs and protein.

How Many Carbs Should You Eat?

Carbs have somehow become controversial. Perhaps they’re simply too good at helping people gain weight and so are being blamed for the obesity epidemic. But as skinny guys, this is not our issue. In fact, ours is the opposite: we tend to have a hard time gaining weight.

Indeed, when researchers remove carbs from people’s diets, they often have a hard time gaining weight and muscle. For people who are overweight, that’s great. For skinny guys trying to bulk up, though, limiting carbs only makes our quest all the harder.

For instance, if we look at a 2021 paper by Paoli et al, we see restricting carbohydrates can cut our rate of muscle growth in four:

Graph showing that eating more carbohydrates makes it easier to gain weight and build muscle while bulking.
Carbs allow us to gain weight and build muscle much faster.

There’s some nuance to this study, as we explain in our article on ketogenic diets. The low-carb group had a harder time eating enough calories to gain weight, thrashing their ability to build muscle. Plus, limiting their carb intake caused them to store less glycogen in their muscles, reducing their muscular endurance and making them appear less muscular. That may have hidden the muscle they gained.

Illustration of a bowl of rice, a great source of carbs while bulking.

This is all to say that if we look at the research, it’s clear carbs are a valuable ally for people who are trying to bulk up (study). That’s why conventional bodybuilding diets, bulking diets, and athlete diets recommend getting around half of your calories from carbs:

  • For gaining muscle mass, research shows getting 40–60% of our calories from carbohydrates improves our workout performance, gives our muscles a fuller appearance, and increases our rate of muscle growth (studystudy).
  • For gaining general strength, The National Strength & Conditioning Association recommends getting 45–65% of our calories from carbohydrates. They note that this range is best for our general health, for building muscle, and for gaining strength.
  • For improving athletic performance, The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends eating enough protein to maximize muscle recovery and growth, enough fat for good hormonal health, and then to get the rest of our calories from carbohydrates. That typically works out to around 40–60% of our calories coming from carbs.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that these recommendations include wide ranges, and that this is a fairly minor factor to begin with. If you get a third of your calories from carbs instead of half, you probably won’t notice the difference. As a result, there’s no need to track your carb intake. Eating plenty of carbs is great, but there’s no dire need to be precise.

When bulking, getting 40–60% of your calories from carbs is ideal. But this is a rough target with a wide range. Tracking your carb macros isn’t required. Eating fewer carbs is fine.

What Foods to Eat While Bulking

The Supposed Magic of Muscle Chili

I built most of my muscle out of habanero chili. Every Sunday I’d cook up a giant pot, put a few servings in the fridge, and put a few more servings in the freezer. Whenever I wanted a convenient bulking meal, all I had to do was reheat it in the microwave and toss a bit of pre-ground cheese or cilantro on top. I am a lazy efficient person, and so this often meant I was eating chili at least twice per day.

Illustration of a bowl of chili, a great meal to eat while bulking.

Around that time, one of my good friends, Payam, asked me for help losing weight. Chili is high in protein and convenient to make, so I suggested he give it a try, just using smaller portions than I was eating. He lost 20 pounds in a single month. Seeing his success, another of my close friends, Willem, tried my chili diet. He got similar results.

Before and after photos showing Jared's results from doing a lean bulk and then a cut.

This was also the diet Jared used to gain over 27 pounds during a 4-month bulk. We were roommates at the time, I relied heavily on chili, and so we would cook it together on Sundays and then eat it together during the week while watching half-episodes of The Shield.

Now, it might sound like I’m trying to sell you on a chili diet. I’m not. Our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program includes a full recipe book, and you’ll see my chili recipe featured proudly, in all of its deserved glory. But the truth is, it’s just a convenient meal that happens to be a good source of protein and carbs. The chili is predominantly made from lean ground meat, which is high in protein, and beans, which is a great source of fibre and carbs (along with some extra protein). Chili is magic, but so are many other meals.

Before and after photos showing Shane Duquette bulking up leanly.
Shane at 130 pounds (left) and 195 pounds (right).

A few years later, I got married and moved to the Caribbean. Not surprisingly, the diet here is rather different. Habanero peppers are even more prominent, and I also eat more seafood, beans, and rice (and way more tacos). There’s also far more fresh fruit: mangos, watermelons, bananas, and passion fruit. And that’s totally cool. It took my digestive system a few weeks to adjust to the new foods, but after that, it didn’t affect my results at all. This totally different diet helped me accomplish my lifetime goal of benching 315 pounds.

Whatever is available where you live, whatever you can afford, whatever you like—that’s what you should build your bulking diet out of. Here are some examples:

  • Chili
  • Paella
  • Stir fry
  • Sushi
  • Vindaloo curry
  • Lasagna
  • Salmon and potatoes
  • Beef and potato stew
  • Chicken, rice, and broccoli
  • Vegan lentil stew

These are all perfect bulking dinners. You can eat whichever you prefer, cycle through all of them, or eat something totally different. The same goes for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. One person might blend up a fruit smoothie with protein, another person might prefer oatmeal, and a third might prefer eggs. All of those are great options. All are made mostly out of whole foods, all contain enough protein, and all will build the same amount of muscle.

So what I’d encourage you to do is think about meals made out of mostly whole foods, that you love, that you can passionately bulk up with. Bulking means eating a lot of food. Better if you love that food.

The Power of Whole Foods

There’s a war raging on in the bodybuilding world, a war that has lasted for several decades. One side fights for “clean” eating, the other for If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM). And that’s just the bodybuilders. If you turn to the world of strength training, you’ll see a variety of other diets, ranging from keto to paleo to carnivore to “see-food” diets (where you eat everything you see).

Most of these diets have an advantage or two, but the best way to get the benefits of all of them without any of the needless restrictions or potential downsides is simply to focus on eating whole foods. A good rule of thumb is to get around 80% of your calories from whole foods, with 20% of your calories coming from whatever.

In practice, that usually means eating a good breakfast but letting yourself having some cream and sugar in your coffee (if you want). Then eating a good lunch but not worrying about how many calories are in the sauces you like. Then finishing the day with a good dinner but having some dessert afterwards if you’ve still got calories to power through. And if you want to eat at a restaurant a few times per week, no problem, just order the dishes that include a hearty source of protein.

A good bulking diet is built on a foundation of whole foods, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include some regular indulgences. It’s okay to have a margarita after work. It’s okay to eat white rice instead of brown rice. Don’t sweat the details, but do get the foundation right.

The Case for Simple Carbs

When planning a bulking diet for the very first time, a lot of guys try to get all of their carbs from “healthy” sources, such as veggies, whole grains, legumes, and oats. Don’t get me wrong, those are all fantastic foods. But when eaten in large quantities, they can be somewhat difficult to digest, often causing stomach pain, bloating, and bulking miasmas.

There’s a reason that bodybuilders are famous for eating large servings of white rice: it’s easier to digest! Plus, there’s no real downside. Simple starches are perfectly good for building muscle quickly and leanly. The trick is to add that white rice into a diet that includes other sources of fibre, vitamins, and minerals.

That’s why the classic bodybuilder meal is chicken, broccoli, and rice. The chicken and broccoli are rich in protein, micronutrients, and fibre (especially if you drizzle some olive oil on that broccoli). And then the rice adds in a ton of easily digested carbs.

So what you want is balance. Include whole grains, legumes, fruits, and veggies in your diet, but when you’re struggling to add more carbs, consider adding simple carbs: rice, bananas, bread, fruit juice—that kind of thing. This is especially important if you’re eating carbs before heading to the gym. You’ll want to eat something easier to digest so your stomach doesn’t bother you while working out.

The Place for Supplements

You don’t need to take any supplements while bulking, and their benefits are often exaggerated. Pre-workout supplements are ubiquitous among lifters despite the fact they offer little more than a strong cup of black coffee. Still, there are a few supplements that can indeed come in handy.

Illustration of a tub of muscle-building supplements.
  • Protein powders are an easy source of protein. That’s really all there is to it. It isn’t better or worse than other sources of protein, just more convenient. Whey protein isolate makes for the best default, but plant-based options are equally great, and casein protein is ideal before bed and tastes best when mixed with oatmeal.
  • Creatine is one of the only supplements that’s proven to increase our rate of muscle growth. It’s cheap, healthy, effective, and has been thoroughly tested for many decades (systematic review).
  • Caffeine is the most powerful ergogenic (performance-enhancing) supplement. If you take enough of it before working out (often 300+ mg), you’ll be abe to do more reps more easily. The problem is that if you’re training after work, that might be too much too close to your bedtime. So, instead of taking massive amounts of caffeine for the ergogenic effects, we usually have a cup of coffee more for the psychological effects—a bit of extra motivation.

There are other supplements that may yield modest benefits, such as citrulline malate, beta-alanine, and ashwagandha (which I take), but those are more for supplement enthusiasts than for any noticeable improvements in muscle growth.

Great Bulking Foods

Okay, so we’ve covered a bunch of dietary principles and given some examples. But what foods should you actually be eating? What are some examples to get your salivary juices flowing?

When bulking, the main challenge for most naturally skinny people is eating enough calories to gain weight. To make bulking easier, we want to lean into foods that are nutritious, energy-dense, and easy to digest. We have a full article on how to eat more calories and another about the best bulking foods, but here’s a list of examples to get you started:

  1. Smoothies are the king of bulking drinks. Blend up some frozen berries, a banana, spinach, yogurt, oats, and a scoop of protein powder and you’ve got yourself a 100% ideal bulking meal. Best of all, you can prepare and chug it in under 5 minutes. And because it’s been blended, it will pass through your digestive system quite quickly.
  2. Trail mix is the king of bulking foods. There are many different styles, but my favourite is a simple mix of nuts and dried fruits (such as cranberries, raisins, peanuts, and almonds). Most styles of trail mix contain more than 500 calories per cup, meaning that by adding a single cup of trail mix to your diet, you can shift into a nice bulking surplus.
  3. Milk is easy to prepare, breezy to consume, and quick to digest, and it’s loaded with calories coming from protein, carbs, and fat. A cup of whole milk contains 150 calories, meaning if you add a cup of milk to three meals each day, you’re adding 450 calories to your diet. That’s a great calorie surplus to start with.
  4. Muesli cereal is made up of nuts, grains, and dried fruit combined with milk. These are exactly the sorts of foods and nutrients we need while bulking. If you like the idea of eating cereal, this is often the best way to do it.
  5. Olive oil is a nutritious source of fat. Like all oils, its energy density is off the charts. Drizzling a tablespoon of olive oil on your veggies will add 119 calories to your meal. For a more dubious example, when I was struggling to gain weight, I would occasionally take shots of olive oil—357 calories.
  6. Nuts (and nut butters) are another great source of easy calories. For example, if you spread two tablespoons of peanut butter onto a slice of bread, you’re adding 200 calories to it. This explains why peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches are so popular among young football players who are trying to bulk up.
  7. Dried fruits pack the same nutritional punch as regular fruits, but because they contain so much less water, they’re much smaller, taking up much less space in your mouth and stomach.
  8. Dark chocolate is a nice treat that’s actually pretty healthy, rich in many vitamins and minerals. It can be a great snack while bulking.
  9. Protein shakes one of the hardest things about bulking is getting enough protein, especially when you aren’t used to including a protein source with every meal. Protein shakes make that very easy.
  10. Weight gainers are somewhat controversial. They’re made by combining simple carbs (such as maltodextrin) with protein powder (such as whey protein). They’re quick to prepare, the macros are perfect, and they tend to be fairly easy to digest. Just keep in mind maltodextrin is a “junk” food, so make sure to get plenty of whole foods elsewhere in your diet.
  11. Bananas are nature’s carb pill. They are a large pill, yes, and you’ll probably want to chew it, but there’s it’s hard to find a more convenient source of healthy and easily digested carbohydrates.
  12. White rice is a simple starch, which is a fantastic source of easily digested calories. With a rice cooker, it’s a breeze to prepare, and many people find it easy to eat in large quantities, either on its own or as a base for curries, stir-fries, and chilis. Rice was one of Marco’s staple foods while gaining over 70 pounds.
  13. Oats were initially more famous for helping horses bulk up, but have since become quite popular with humans as well. They aren’t quite as easy to digest as rice, but they contain more fibre and micronutrients. Bodybuilders often mix oats with casein protein powder, giving them a good mix of protein and nutritious carbs.
  14. Cheese
  15. Yogurt is rich in probiotics, which can help to improve our digestive power. Some types of yogurt, such as Greek yogurt, are also incredibly high in protein.
  16. Kefir made from milk is another great source of probiotics and is also quite high in protein. Unlike yogurt, it’s often consumed as a drink, making it much easier to eat.
  17. Eggs are nature’s muscle-building multivitamin, containing quite a lot of protein and good fats, and a ton of vitamins and minerals.
  18. Ground meat is like regular meat, except it’s easier to chew and quicker to digest, making it great for bulking up. What’s neat is it tends to feature more tendons and connective tissues than cushier cuts of meat, making it arguably more nutritious.
  19. Salmon (and other fatty fish) are packed full of protein and are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA and DHA), which are an important part of a healthy diet. Because of this extra fat, salmon is much higher in calories than other fish.
  20. Spinach, Beets, and Leafy Greens are rich in dietary nitrate, which is proven to improve our blood flow and workout performance (study). An easy way to include more nitrate in your diet is to blend some spinach into a fruit, yogurt, and protein smoothie.

Free Bulking Recipes

get sample recipes—smoothie, snack, & homemade protein bar

3 free bulking recipes

Bulking Diet Summary

To summarize there are just a few things to keep in mind:

  • You need to eat enough calories to gain weight. Gaining 0.5–1 pound per week is a good default for a beginner or early intermediate lifter who’s eager to bulk up, but any amount of weight gain, no matter how gradual, will have you seeing progress over time. To do this, you need around 500 extra calories per day. But keep in mind that if you aren’t gaining weight, you need to add more calories to your diet! We usually recommend adding 200 calories whenever you stop gaining weight for more than two weeks in a row.
  • You need to eat enough protein to build muscle. Eating 1 gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day is a good default, but anything over 0.7 grams of protein per pound bodyweight per day will be enough to build muscle at full speed. (And eat tons of extra protein doesn’t seem to offer any additional advantages.)
  • Carbs are good. You can build muscle without eating any carbs, but the more carbs you eat, the easier it will be. There’s no need to track your carb intake, but getting around 50% of your calories from carbs tends to be ideal for building muscle, improving your workout performance, and keeping your muscles looking full and hard.
  • Eat real food, but otherwise, go with your preferences. The best way to build muscle quickly, leanly, and healthfully is to eat a diet made up mostly of whole-ish foods. These “whole-ish” foods include minimally processed foods like yogurt, white rice, whey protein, whole grain bread, and so on. Since you’ll also be eating a lot of food, perfection isn’t required, and you should have no problem getting the nutrients and fibre you need. A good default is to aim for at least 80% minimally processed whole foods (meat, fruits, veggies, dairy, whey, rice, etc) and no more than 20% junk food (sugary sauces, pastries, Cheerios, piña coladas, margaritas, IPAs, mezcal, whiskey, daiquiris, etc).
  • Eat balanced meals and spread them out. The ideal bulking diet is made up of 3–6 meals spread out evenly over the course of the day, with each of those meals containing at least 20–30 grams of protein. That way you’ll be building muscle all day long, spiking a bit of muscle protein synthesis with each and every meal.
Before and after illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and gaining weight.

That’s really all there is to it. If you want to experiment with nutrient timing, that’s okay, but the most important aspect of nutrient timing is eating several meals with protein in them every day. If you want to try going low-carb, go for it, but eating more carbs is better. And if you want to try cutting out grains or avoiding all sugar, that’s totally cool, but don’t expect it to affect your muscle growth.

There’s also a ton of flexibility here. If you want to bulk on a plant-based diet, go for it. There’s no disadvantage. If you have iffy digestive or food sensitives, feel free to cut out the foods that bother you. And if you don’t like piña coladas, it’s okay to spend your free calories on daiquiris instead. Or, more seriously, if alcohol tends to interfere with your sleep or compliance, feel free to cut it out. But if it jives well with you, you don’t have to.

If you can follow these diet principles, rest assured that your diet will never hold back your muscle growth. The other major factors to look into are your workout program (the #1 most important thing) and getting enough good sleep each night.

Alright, now you know everything. Good luck!

Illustration showing the Bony to Beastly Bulking Program

If you want a full bulking program, including a 5-month workout routine, diet guide, recipe book, and coaching, check out our Bony to Beastly (men’s) program or Bony to Bombshell (women’s) program. Or if you want an intermediate bulking routine, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program. If you liked this article, you’ll love our full programs.

Shane Duquette is the founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, each with millions of readers. He's gained seventy pounds and has over a decade of experience helping more than ten thousand naturally thin people build muscle. He also has a degree in design, but those are inversely correlated with muscle growth.

Marco Walker-Ng is the founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified trainer (PTS) and nutrition coach (PN) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. He has over 15 years of experience helping people gain muscle and strength, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.