Learn how to "lean bulk" - gain muscle mass without gaining fat. Let's set the record straight, bulking for extended periods is not a good idea!

The word bulking conjures up images of stuffing mass amounts of food into your mouth for extended periods of time. In most cases, when a natural bodybuilder begins a bulking period, it lasts for several months in a row. Maybe you've attempted a bulk like this?

I'm here to set the record straight: bulking for extended periods of time is a bad approach.

The Benefits of Bulking

Bulking works, but it works best in two week spurts. During times of over-feeding, the body becomes a growth machine.

Fat storage activity in the body doesn't instantly kick into overdrive when bulking begins. It's not a light switch reaction. Simply put, when you over-eat, it takes a while for the body to transition to "fat storage" mode. During this transition period, your body is a muscle building machine.

During the first 14 days of a bulk, several studies have revealed that testosterone, IGF-1, and insulin levels elevate. What does this mean? You are highly anabolic. You are as anabolic as you're going to get as a natural bodybuilder.

Benefits of Aggressive Bulking Peak at 14 Days

But the anabolic benefits of bulking peak after 14 days. During this time, and as I mentioned, the body is slowly transitioning over to fat storage mode. After 2 weeks on a bulk, you lose most of the anabolic benefits, and start to store fat at an alarming rate.

If you continue to aggressively bulk after this point, more of your gains will be fat. Of course, each individual is different. Some may continue to gain more muscle for several days after the 2 week period. And some may start to add fat earlier then predicted. But in general, 2 weeks is the optimal bulking period.

As one can project, once your current bulk ends, you should refrain from another bulking cycle for at least 2 weeks. Again, the body needs time to transition from a fat storage machine into a fat burning machine.

During this transition time, it is recommended that you eat slightly below caloric maintenance levels. Because the body is ready to store fat, eating "normal maintenance calories" could cause you to gain unwanted fat. By eating slightly below maintenance levels, you will encourage the body to transition to fat burning mode. Thus begins the prepping cycle for the next bulk.

Lean Bulk

Healthier, non-processed foods allow the body to function better, so clean bulking keeps the body running more efficiently.

What About Hardgainers?

A hardgainer is a person who has difficulty gaining weight either through diet or exercise.

After reading this, hardgainers might fear the post-bulk, low calorie period. After all, they have a hard time gaining muscle, and don't want to lose what they've just gained.

Here's the good news: during 2 week bulking cycles, studies reveal that you will gain primarily muscle. (I will list the studies at the end of this article) And during post-bulking, "cutting" periods, you lose primarily fat.

The bottom line is that over a 28 day bulk/cut, you gain muscle, and gain very little fat. If you gain 3 pounds of muscle and 2 pounds of fat over a 14 day bulk, and lose 1 pounds of muscle and 2 pounds of fat during the 14 day cut...

You will have gained 2 pounds of muscle and ZERO pounds of fat over a 28 day period.

Now, repeat this cycle each month, and you will be well on your way to packing on muscle mass.

Is Muscle Memory a Myth?

Muscle memory is not a myth. Once a muscle has reached a certain size, it tends to be MUCH easier to obtain that size again. So, if you gain 2 pounds of muscle on a 2 week bulk, but end up losing a couple pounds of that during the subsequent cut...have no fear. Muscle memory will make it much easier to regain that muscle the next time you bulk.

Dirty or Clean Bulk?

Is it best to eat dirty or clean calories during a 2 week bulk? Generally, it doesn't matter. A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Many will disagree with me. I encourage them to read the science behind this bulking protocol.

But with that said, healthier, non-processed foods allow the body to function better, so clean bulking keeps the body running more efficiently. It is very difficult to eat enough calories on a clean bulk. I recommend eating clean most of the time, but allowing room for pizza, chips and ice cream.

Make sure you continue your pattern of frequent feedings. Eat at least 30 grams of protein 5-6 times per day on a bulk. And eat huge post-workout. Huge!

Calories Needed During a Bulk

How much should you eat during bulking and cutting periods? To answer this question, you first need to discover your caloric maintenance level. Log everything you eat, and find the calorie level that keeps your weight the same for a 2 week period.

Once you know this number, eat at least an additional 1,000 calories per day on a bulk. Remember, it takes time for the body to transition over to fat storage mode, so eating more then 1,000 calories over maintenance level isn't a bad thing at all. I would recommend eating more then this the first week of a bulk, and cutting back to surplus of 1,000 during the second week.

Following the bulk, immediately cut back your calories to 500 below maintenance - and keep them there for the entire 2 week period.

The Studies

For more information on the research behind the science of bulking, I encourage you to Google the following studies:

"Changes in macronutrient balance during over- and underfeeding assessed by 12-d continuous whole-body calorimetry." Jebb S A; Prentice A M; Goldberg G R; Murgatroyd P R; Black A E; Coward W A

"Hormonal response to overfeeding." GB Forbes, MR Brown, SL Welle and LE Underwood

"Short-term, mixed-diet overfeeding in man: no evidence for ‘luxuskonsumption.'" Ravussin E, Schutz Y, Acheson KJ, Dusmet M, Bourquin L, Jéquier E.

End Notes

No approach to bulking and cutting will ever yield the same results for 2 individuals. It is up to you to experiment, and log results. If you are gaining too much fat on a bulk, either pull back the amount of calories you are eating, or shorten the bulk up by one day. It is best to make small movements when trying to zero in on the perfect plan for your body.

I highly recommend purchasing a skin fold caliper, and logging weekly fat, and lean body mass levels. Only by doing so will you know your true lean muscle mass levels. Body fat scales are highly inaccurate. Under no circumstances should you utilize one to estimate the effectiveness of a bulking/cutting plan.

Posted on: Mon, 01/04/2016 - 17:25

"Gain 3 pounds of muscle" in 2 weeks?

Posted on: Fri, 07/31/2015 - 13:41

Bulk 2 weeks cut 2 weeks repeat? Sure if your goal is to screw up your hormones and look like a zombie
Bulk should last 9-10 months. Cut should last 4-6 weeks losing 6-8 pounds. This article is terrible.

Posted on: Wed, 11/26/2014 - 12:37

Hey..I'm a 17 year old boy. My height is 5'11 and weight 135 pounds. I feel I'm rather skinny and find it difficult to gain weight. I'm a strict vegetarian. I do exercise such as push-ups ,crunches ,sit-ups ,squats but do not gym. Hope you could give me some advice about gaining muscle mass.

Posted on: Tue, 11/11/2014 - 14:40

Hey, great article, when calculating the cutting 2weeks calories are we subtracting from the original weights bmr or our new bmr after gaining weight during the bulk? Thanks

oscar herrera
Posted on: Sun, 09/21/2014 - 12:15

Had someone try it and had good results?

Roman jr
Posted on: Sun, 09/14/2014 - 20:55

Hi George what is the best fat burner to take ?

Posted on: Fri, 03/28/2014 - 10:44

Bulk using 1,000 over maintenance? LOL WOKAY

Posted on: Mon, 03/24/2014 - 10:36

I have a friend who is an absolute freak of nature. 6'1", 170 lbs and arms like the hulk. 400 lb bench and 4% body fat. He is in his mid 40s and has been doing the two week cycle for over 20 years. It works. My question is: Can I accomplish the same thing with a 4 day lean/3 day bulk cycle over the long term. I work 4 day weeks and can maintain an impeccable clean, low fat diet for those days. The weekends are a little more difficult. Ideally, I would eat lean for four days, start slacking on Friday, eat like a beast on Saturday and Sunday until lunch, then lean back out Sunday night for the next four days. Just would like to get your thoughts on that one before I jump in and maybe find out the hard way that it won't work.


Michael Doyle
Posted on: Thu, 03/20/2014 - 12:12

Hi Steve ,

Very interesting article , I am at 151 pounds and just under 5,8 I have always looked good and have definition but never tried a proper bulk think I was scared of carrying the fat , just recently started this bulk I can see body fat appearing at the belly and good which is fine I am prepared to take on excess fat , my question is macros do you go for 40carbs/40 protein/20fat ratio and also after a workout immediately within first 5 minutes I have been having 2 pop tarts and my protein shake as my simple carbs protein fix , 72g carbs and 32g sugar , is this to much or should I just have a bagel which is less sugar ? Anyone with relevant experience please feel comment I am natural and use

Marco Antonio
Posted on: Sat, 09/07/2013 - 23:15

I'm a hardgainer
Is there any problem using hypercaloric suplements during the bulking weeks?


Posted on: Tue, 08/13/2013 - 07:25

IM a hardgainer

can i have maintenance calories on cut week?

Posted on: Thu, 07/11/2013 - 09:36

Any bulk less than 8-12 weeks seems pointless to me it really does, i think i will just with Layne Nortons method!

Posted on: Mon, 07/01/2013 - 17:31

Hi I am 15 years old and I want to start by bulking I am about 5ft 10 and about 10 stone. I am very new to all this so can anyone give me any good tips or advice on where I can start like what to eat each day and what parts of the body to exercise each day any help would be much appreciated thanks

Posted on: Sat, 09/14/2013 - 12:17

Eat eat eat. At 15 you shouldn't worry about gaining fat unless you're already fat. Train with compound movements like starting strength program and eat eat eat.

Posted on: Fri, 06/14/2013 - 11:33

This is the biggest load of crap I have ever heard!!! Hahahaha if you believe this you are a true bro. You won't see any real gains in the first week. Been doing this for too long have never heard any bs like this. If you are eating in a caloric surplus you will gain muscke you will gain fat. If you want to put in muscle mass you can't be afraid to take on some fat. Then when you go to cut, if it's done right, will fall off. Don't listen to this crap! They don't want people to be successful. And remember what worls for someone probably doesn't work for you! Meal timing=erelavant, lift for hypertrophy= 8-12 reps of 65-75%1mr, get your macronutrients in place and just fit foods in until you hit daily goal and don't worry how you get there just do. On a mission to turn people to the truth and not what these companies put out there cause the truth is they don't want you to get results!

Glenn Mcavoy
Posted on: Sun, 03/24/2013 - 11:57

This is a very goo view point and i was thinking of trying this. But first i need some clarification would this work for a 15 year old male? As i think during the 'cutting' phases i may stunt my growth due to the lack of calories. Please reply ASAP.


Posted on: Wed, 03/06/2013 - 03:02

hey steve, i was wondering what you would recommend as a good protein/carb/fat ratio would be if i was on a 3500 calorie daily intake? cheers

Posted on: Fri, 06/14/2013 - 11:37

Everyone is going to be different. Good place to start is 50% carbs, 30% pro, and 20 fat. Just follow and make adjustments as you feel they're needed. Remember, meal timing is irrelevant. As long as at the end of the day you meet your macro and calorie goal you will grow!

Posted on: Wed, 02/20/2013 - 01:22

Hey, Steve. I was wondering if this kind of cycle would be okay with one of the workout articles i found on here as well.
The Power Hypertrophy Upper Lower workout.
Which consists of 2 strength building days and 2 hypertrophy days.
Would that be okay for say about... 4-6 weeks and then change routine?

Jay Denny
Posted on: Sat, 11/10/2012 - 18:48

This is a wonderful article. I was wondering how this could be modified for an underweight person. I need to gain 40lbs LOL! I was thinking of reducing the cutting portion of the phase 3:1 bulk/cut ratio, ofcourse experimentation is the only way to know for sure =)

Posted on: Thu, 11/08/2012 - 01:57

I have just tarted training 8 weeks ago after having my two children so a 5 year break, I started with a 12 week cutting phase, wanting to prep for bulking, and think 2 weeks on two weeks off plan is great, I am currently eating 1200 cal a day with one day 1500, exercise 6 days a week, 3 days weights with 20 min HIIT afterwards and 3 days cardio Taebo, I am taking BCAA's and eating high protein diet +\- 110g per day, I can't take protein supplements due to citalopram I take, I weigh 59kgs, currently 20% fat 46% muscle mass. Question calorie intake to bulk? What foods to add in? Good carbs and good fats? Or more protein or a bit of all 3?

Posted on: Fri, 05/18/2012 - 04:28

I tried this a few years ago and was happy with my results. The "rebound" effect was incredible. I started at 190lb with a 35 inch waist and 8 weeks later I finished at 190lb with a 32 3/4 inch waist. For the bulk phase/cut phase it was 3600 cal/1700 cal.

Bulk training was 2 full-body routines, one ex per body part, 2 sets to failure and the cut was 3 full-body routines, one ex per body part, each exercise 3 sets of 15, sub-failure.

P/F/C for the bulk - 225g/100g/450g and for the cut 150g/30g/200g.

Posted on: Wed, 05/16/2012 - 03:10

I dieted down and lost 2 and a half stone in a 3 month period. I went from 17st 8lbs to 15 stone 4lbs. I was training for the NABBA show first time ever but got ill from the diet i was on due to over exertion and working 12 hour shifts. I wasn't going to train again but have decided to train so i have made a 3 day a week bulk session to compliment all basic core actions and will implement it the end of this week i need a clean bulk plan to last me through this eight week bulk then a decent diet to cut up. I have tried various things and failed i am now at 16st 7lbs and feel better but wish to bulk for bigger muscle gain natural. If anyone can help me to get a weekly plan etc i would appreciate it as this is my down fall i am looking for the big gains but as we all now the diet is essential for progress any help would be gratefully received and hopefully with help i will be in a position to compete next year.

Height: 6ft 2
weight: 16st 7lbs

Posted on: Mon, 04/09/2012 - 19:14

Quick question when transition from bulking to cutting or backwards how do u approach the change in nutrition? for example lets say I'm eating 3500 calories when bulking after two weeks do i drop to 2500 throw in more cardio? cause a slow transition of eating less and less wouldn't seem useful since its only a two week phase?

Posted on: Sat, 01/21/2012 - 01:34

Hi Jeff,

Im am 20 years old almost 21 im weight at ~138lbs and 5foot6-7 at the moment just started on a new diet thing, that a friend told me. im eating 4 meals a day each has Carbs and protein, there not small there big meals. im in the bulking process at the moment he told me to keep bulking till the spring then go to the cutting phase. im in Australia letting you know.

should i eat 5-6 meals a day with all of that being carbs and protein with veggies? fruits in the morning (banana) just want to know your thoughts.



Posted on: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 21:18

hi steve
i am 21 years old, 100 lb, and 5feet4. i been hitting the gym for 3month now and i did gain some weight. however, i read your article about cycling, now i am wondering if i should cycling too. also if i do what calories range do u recommend.


M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 12/20/2011 - 11:47

Hi Jeff,

At your height and weight I wouldn't recomme3nd carb cycling. You would be better off with a more aggressive eating plan.

Posted on: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 21:59

when you say 1000 calorie surplus then cut 500 calories below maintenance is that like lets say your maintanence is 2500 you eat 3500 then cut at at 2000 calories? wouldnt 1500 calorie (3500-1000 surplus - 500 below maintanence = 2000) cut be to drastic and cause muscle lose please explain

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 12/20/2011 - 11:46

Your numbers are correct.

Would it be too drastic? Perhaps. At the end of the day this is merely a tool to explore. Carb and calorie cycling has been around for quite some time and as with everything, it's worth trying for personal experience alone. Minor changes may be required.

Mary Anne
Posted on: Thu, 11/17/2011 - 19:56

I am very interested in this method of bulking. Do the same principles hold true for women as well? And is there a certain bodyfat % one should be at before starting a bulking cycle like this? I have been on a slow bulk for a year. My current plan is to continue my current bulk until the new year, then a 8-10 week cut cycle.....then at that point follow this method of bulking. Good idea?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 12:57

Yes, women play by the same rules. But with that said, women are not as "anabolic" as men so aggressive eating is likely to result in a greater percentage of fat gain.

When cycling you don't want to heavily overeat during a bulk phase. Better to keep the difference between bulking and cutting more reasonable.

I think your plan looks good. This is a great time of year to bulk.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 15:29

A lot depends on age and current weight. If I were advising my wife I would probably deviate 300 to 400 from maintenance levels. For example, if my wife maintained weight at 1800 calories, I might have her try:

Bulk - 2100 calories
Cut - 1500 calories

Mary Anne Cleghorn
Posted on: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 15:25

Thanks for the response, Steve. So what would be a more reasonable surplus, in your opinion? And should one be lean already before embarking on this strategy?

Posted on: Sun, 03/24/2013 - 18:57

Is this safe for a 15 year old

kevin austin
Posted on: Wed, 09/21/2011 - 02:28

HI Steve, i am trying this approach now, i was just wandering if there was any people or forums that have people that tried it in the past? i have been weight training at defict for 6 months and made some good base strength gains, lost loads of fat 55lbs total. now i am building mass. just done 3 weeks of a bulk relatively clean and gained 7lbs although im sure 2 of it is water weight. definite strength gains and mass gains. begining the cut phase as of today.
Do i have to really eat 4500 cals in the bulk phases? i am 160lbs lean mass approx. when bulking i was on 3500 and gaining steadily through out. if i took this approach would i gain less fat and be able to actually lower my fat % every month after the cut? while still gaining 1-2lbs of muscle. or does it only work properly on huge excess intakes?

would really like to find an up to date forum to ask people these annoying questions and chat about how it went for people who have tried it

Many thanks

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 12:54

Yes, this style of bulking is picking up some steam. Natural bodybuilder Layne Norton uses mini-cycles of bulking and cutting, and because he is so respected, others are trying it.

Do you have to eat 4500 in bulk phases? No. If 3500 is working and you are gaining weight then by all means stick to it. Nothing is carved in stone. This is merely a tool and not a rule.

It does pay off to eat more aggressively earlier in a mini-bulk. So you might want to try having a few "big days" and then tapering down to 3500.

Posted on: Tue, 03/22/2011 - 21:09

What do you do if you hit your goal weight but you're not at your ideal shape yet?

Posted on: Tue, 03/01/2011 - 17:38

Hey Steve!

I have recently been doing Kelly Baggett's bulk up and lose fat simultaneously diet, but I was curious as to whether or not I could jump right in to this routine. My reason for asking is because I have leaned out alot and still put on a little muscle on Kelly's diet, but I wasnt sure if jumping right in to the 2 week bulk would counteract my leaning results and start me back at square one? I figure, based on your routine, I should only benefit from a 14 day cycle followed by about 3-5 days of calorie deficiting. Please advise.


Posted on: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 20:25

Do you have to bulk for two weeks and then cut for two weeks? Can you just bulk for two weeks and then eat maintenance for two weeks?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 12/02/2010 - 13:24

Hi Ethan,

Sure, you can do that.

Posted on: Sun, 11/14/2010 - 07:11

Will this approach yield similar results as per https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/zig-zag-bulking-approach.html
as I have tried this approach and it works brilliantly it's just a bit hectic changing your calories everyday sometimes

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 11/15/2010 - 13:46

Hi Nick,

Yes, this will work effectively and yield similar results. Here is another article that might be of interest:


Posted on: Mon, 11/15/2010 - 13:51

Ahh good post thanks a lot :)
By the way do you know of any good sites where I can get a 2500 + 3500 calorie diet plans?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 11/15/2010 - 14:53

Hi Nick,

Check out the natural bodybuilder profiles on the site. They list their off-season diets:


You might also want to check out this article:


Posted on: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 06:57

Hi Steve

Just wondering if wat happens when i dont reach my dayly protein intake but reach my carb intake, and consistently gym for months is it possible to gain muscle in time to come.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 11:04

Hi Beni,

That is hard to say without knowing how many calories and grams of protein you are eating. You can try this approach, but will have to monitor the scale closely to see how your body responds.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 02/26/2010 - 08:22

George...you can really structure in any beneficial way. As far as for endomorphs, the only thing I can say is that it's best to experiment. Each body is different. I would start with a plan, and make adjustments based on your results.

Posted on: Fri, 02/26/2010 - 03:27

oh yes, sorry and is this cycle any good for an endomorph?
would a 1 week bulk, 2 week cut work for an endo?

Posted on: Fri, 02/26/2010 - 03:12

hey can you bulk for 1 week and then cut for 2 weeks?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 02/01/2010 - 19:29

Nate...your entire bulk will be a consistent intake of calories. You will be over-eating, so each day will be a large amount of calories.