Best Macro Split for Lean Bulk – Introduction
You need a lean bulk macro guide to learn how to build lean muscle mass with minimal fat gain.
Bulking is an age-old muscle-building strategy.
During a bulk, you train hard and heavy and eat big to provide your body with the stimulus and fuel it needs to build muscle fast.
Bulking is usually followed by cutting – the process of dieting down and getting lean.
Bulking is generally pretty enjoyable, as you get to eat lots (and lots!) of food, and you’ll see your scale weight increasing weekly, so there is an element of instant gratification, too.
You’ll also get significantly stronger and look HUGE!
Most bulking diet plans create a large calorie surplus – often 500 to 1000 extra calories per day.
This ensures your body has all the energy and nutrients it needs for workout energy, recovery, and muscle growth.
However, bulking bodybuilders don’t just gain muscle; they gain fat too, and often lots of it.
Depending on how long you bulk for and how free and easy you were on your diet, you could see your body fat percentage increase more than your biceps’ measurement!
That’s why a bulking phase is invariably followed by a period of dieting, also known as a cutting phase.
The trouble with this bulking/cutting cycle is that losing fat is invariably accompanied by muscle loss.
Sure, you gained a whole lot of extra muscle during your bulk, but some of that mass is lost when you diet away the fat.
If you cut incorrectly, you could even wind up losing most, if not all, of your new muscle mass.
The good news is that there is an alternative to bulking/cutting – lean bulking.
A lean bulk is not easy, and you won’t build muscle as fast, but you also won’t need to follow a cutting diet afterward.
What is Lean Bulking?
Where a regular bulk, also known as a dirty bulk, involves a large calorie surplus, a lean bulk is more restrictive.
For example, instead of eating 1000 extra calories a day, lean bulkers are usually limited to 200-300 surplus calories.
Also, where dirty bulking usually allows a reasonable amount of high-calorie junk food, a lean bulk is stricter and mainly involves eating more natural, clean foods, which are lower in calories and healthier, too.
For this reason, a lean bulk, which focuses on clean eating, is also known as clean bulking.
The result is slow and steady lean muscle gain accompanied by very little if any extra body fat.
In short, you gain muscle while remaining lean, hence the term “lean bulk.”
Because the calorie surplus is far smaller, lean bulkers gain weight much more slowly than regular bulkers – often a pound a month rather than 1-2 pounds per week.
However, because all that weight is muscle mass, you won’t have to switch to a cutting diet when you reach your desired body weight.
How to Calculate Lean Bulk Calorie Intake
With regular bulking, you don’t really need to calculate and count calories.
Instead, you just make a conscious effort to eat a lot more food than usual.
This dietary freedom is part of the appeal of bulking.
Increasing portion size, using a high-calorie weight gain shake, and eating a few calorie-dense snacks per day will get the job done.
However, with a lean bulk, you need to be more precise because consuming too many calories will lead to fat gain, which is precisely what you are trying to avoid.
For successful lean bulking, you need to work out how many calories you need per day to maintain your weight and then add 200-300 to that number.
There are several ways you can do this.
The easiest way to determine your daily calorie requirements is to use an online TDEE calculator.
Just plug in your weight, activity level, age, gender, etc., and you’ll get your estimated Total Daily Energy Expenditure (or TDEE).
Add 200-300 calories to this number, and that’s how much you need to eat to lean bulk.
Alternatively, you can estimate your TDEE from your current food intake.
For one week, weigh and measure all the food you eat and calculate your calorie consumption.
Add all the calories for the week together and then divide by seven to give you a daily average.
During the same week, weigh yourself to see if you are currently gaining weight, losing weight, or if your weight is stable.
- If your weight is stable, your average daily calorie intake is also your TDEE.
- If you are gaining weight, you are already in a calorie surplus.
- If you are losing weight, you have a caloric deficit.
Working on the theory that one pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories, whether you are in calorie surplus or calorie deficit, you should be able to tweak your average calorie intake to establish a rough TDEE.
Then add 200-300 calories for your lean bulk surplus.
Needless to say, using an online calculator is much easier and is the method that we recommend!
Getting the Macros Down
While calories are critical on a lean bulk, your macro ratios can also affect your progress.
For example, you need enough protein to fuel muscle tissue repair and growth, sufficient carbohydrates to power you through your workout, and not too much fat so you don’t consume an excess number of calories.
There are a couple of ways to do this:
As before, you can use an online lean bulk macro calculator to do all the math for you.
This is by far the easiest option.
Some are customizable, so you can adjust the macros to fit your needs.
Alternatively, you can use a fixed macro ratio.
There are several options here, but the most popular are:
- Protein 30%
- Fat 30%
- Carbohydrates 40%
- Carbohydrates 50%
- Protein 30%
- Fat 20%
- Carbohydrates 40%
- Protein 25%
- Fat 35%
Finally, you could simply adjust your macros based on your calorie intake and forget about the actual percentages and ratios:
- Protein: 2-2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight
- Carbohydrates: 4-7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight
- Fat: 0.5-2.0 grams of fat per kilogram of bodyweight
Why are there so many different options and no one-size-fits-all macronutrient split for lean bulking?
The main reason is that calories are more critical than macros, and providing you are getting enough protein, your precise carbs and fat intake don’t really matter all that much.
Some people do well on a lower carb/higher fat diet, while others need more carbs and prefer less fat.
So, pick an approach and stick to it for a couple of weeks to see how your body responds.
Fine-tune your macros based on how you feel.
For example, if you are low on energy, you may need to consume less fat and more carbs.
However, your protein intake should remain relatively high regardless of how you manipulate the other two food groups.
Lean Bulk Diet and Foods
It’s beyond the scope of this article to give you a lean bulk diet to follow.
After all, we don’t know your TDEE, the types of food you like to eat, your chosen macro ratios, your grocery budget, or how good of a cook you are.
That said, we can give you an idea about the type of food you shouldn’t and should eat to gain muscle without gaining excess fat.
Firstly, because you need to control your calorie intake during a lean bulk diet, it’s generally best to avoid high-calorie foods, foods with little nutritional value, and unhealthy foods.
So, cut down on candy, soda, processed food, takeouts, and anything else that could tip you over the edge into the unwanted fat gain territory.
Instead, build your meals around whole foods such as; lean protein, vegetables, complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and whole grains, plus modest amounts of healthy fats like avocado and olive oil.
Snacks should be similarly healthy, and everything should match your macro ratios and produce the small caloric surplus needed for lean bulking.
You’ll need to use a food tracker to calculate your calorie and macro intake, but that gets easier the longer you do it, as you’ll be able to re-use meals that fit your needs.
It’s also important to note that your calorie needs change as you gain weight, and you’ll need to eat a little more as your lean muscle mass increases.
Therefore, you should be ready to recalculate your TDEE and macros every four weeks or so.
If you don’t, you could find that your calorie intake equals your calorie expenditure, and you stop gaining muscle.
What’s the Best Workout?
The truth is there is no official lean bulk workout!
Providing you train consistently and intensely, your body will respond by increasing muscle mass, albeit relatively slowly, because of your small calorie surplus.
That said, you should build your workouts around the most effective compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, pull-ups, bent-over rows, and overhead presses as they provide the biggest muscle-building bang for your weight training buck.
You can follow a split routine, where you train different muscle groups on different days or do full-body workouts as preferred.
The one thing you should avoid is doing excessive amounts of cardio.
Cardio will cut into your already small calorie surplus and could mean you don’t have the resources needed for muscle growth.
Instead, try to limit yourself to just two or three 20 to 30-minute cardio workouts per week.
If possible, make these high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts as they are least likely to lead to muscle atrophy.
Lean Bulk Macros – Wrapping Up
Lean bulking is quite labor-intensive, and you’ll need to learn how to manipulate your caloric intake and macros to gain muscle without fat.
Your progress will be slow, and it will take months, if not years, to achieve significant muscle growth.
However, following a lean bulk also means you won’t gain much body fat, so you won’t have to follow a cutting plan or risk losing your hard-won muscle.
A lean bulking diet also tends to be healthier than the traditional bulking method because it is based on clean eating.
Ultimately, lean bulking and the traditional bulk/cut cycle can both work, and the best option is the one you find the easiest to live with. So why not try them both and see which one you prefer?
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