Bulking season is the best! You are intentionally eating more food therefore, your performance in the gym is better, you feel great, and your strength is through the roof. The problem with bulking, however, is that sometimes it’s hard to control how much fat you gain along with the muscle.
This is where “lean bulking” comes in – a bulking method where you are intentional about not gaining body fat.
This blog post will discuss your macros and how you can optimize them for a lean bulk. It is important to note that everyone’s body is different, so you may have to adjust these macros depending on your needs. But overall, these should give you a good starting point for your lean bulk!
What are lean bulking macros?
A lean bulk is a type of bulking where you intentionally do not gain any fat while simultaneously trying to gain as much muscle tissue as possible.
This sort of bulking differs significantly from a traditional bulk, which typically entails eating as much food as possible.
Your macros (short for macronutrients) are the amount of protein, carbs, and fats you need to eat.
These macros also encompass your calories because:
- Protein and carbs have four calories per gram
- Fat has nine calories per gram.
Think of a lean bulk as a combination of three foundational components:
- Macros: Protein carbs and fats
- Strength training
You can have the best training program or the perfect diet, but if you are missing one of these, you will not reach your full potential.
Conversely, if your macros are spot on but everything else is a mess, you can still make great progress!
- Control how much body fat you gain while bulking
- Gain muscle tissue without putting on fat
- Everyone’s body is different – customize your macros to fit you specifically
- Get a good starting point for your lean bulk with these macros
How to calculate your lean bulk macros
To calculate your specific lean bulk macros, you must first find the number of calories you should be consuming per day.
From there, you will determine how many calories should come from protein, carbs, and fat.
Once you have your daily calorie needs and your macro targets, all that’s left is to find your favorite foods that fit those macros and get started on your lean bulk journey!
Step #1: Calories
The total caloric intake you need in a day is determined by your:
To find your BMR, use one of the many online calculators. I like this one from to use one from the National Institute of Health.
Once you have your BMR, you need to multiply it by an activity factor to get your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). (4)
Your lifestyle determines this activity factor. Here are some examples:
- If you have a sedentary job and don’t work out, your activity factor would be BMR x 1.20
- A light active lifestyle (you workout one to three times per week) would be BMR x 1.30
- A moderate active lifestyle (you workout three to five times per week) would be BMR x 1.40
- A very active lifestyle (you workout six to seven times per week) would be BMR x 1.50
- An extremely active lifestyle (you workout multiple times per day, have a physically demanding job, etc.) would be BMR x 1.75
The last step to finding your lean, bulking calories is to add a calorie surplus. According to a review article published in the journal of Sports Medicine, “During the off-season, the diet should be slightly hyperenergetic (~15% increase in energy intake).” (5)
Your calorie surplus is the “bulk” aspect of the lean bulk calories. This is where most of your weight gain and muscle building will occur. With that being said this too can have a range anywhere between 5-15 %.
A good approach might be to gradually increase your calories. This would look like a 5% increase in total calories each month, starting with your maintenance calories.
Step #2: Protein
Protein is one of the most important macros for a lean bulk because it is responsible for repairing and muscle-building.
The Academy of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram or 0.54-0.77 grams per pound. however, this recommendation does not consider the need to maximize muscle.
For this reason, you may consider increasing your protein to 1.6 – 2.4 grams per kilogram or about 0.72 g – 1.10 g of protein per pound. (5)
Below is a chart to see what the grams of protein should be based on a lower (0.54 g/lb) moderate (0.72 g/lb), and high (1.10 g/lb) protein intake.
|Weight in pounds||Protein (0.54g/lb) |
|100||54 g||72 g||110 g|
|110||59 g||79 g||121 g|
|120||65 g||86 g||132 g|
|130||71 g||94 g||143 g|
|140||76 g||101 g||154 g|
|150||82 g||108 g||165 g|
|160||87 g||115 g||176 g|
|170||93 g||122 g||187 g|
|180||98 g||129 g||198 g|
|190||103 g||137 g||209 g|
|200||108 g||144 g||220 g|
|210||113 g||151 g||231 g|
|220||118 g||158 g||242 g|
You can use these numbers as a good guideline for how many grams of protein you should be eating each day.
Step #3: Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates play a critical role during lean bulk because they are the muscle’s preferred fuel source.
During a bulk, you will be strength training which means your body will need more carbs to support your workouts and recovery.
The amount of carbohydrates you need daily is generally based on a percentage of your total daily calories.
For example, the USDA recommends that 45-65% of your calories come from carbohydrates. However, because you are working out carbohydrate needs are higher.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes consume 6-10 g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight or 2.7 – 4.5 grams of carbohydrate. per pound of body weight.
Below is a chart of the recommended carbohydrate intake for elite athletes:
|Wight in pounds||Carb (2.7 g/lb)||Carb (4.5 g/kg)|
|100||270 g||450 g|
|110||297 g||495 g|
|120||351 g||540 g|
|130||378 g||585 g|
|140||405 g||630 g|
|150||432 g||675 g|
|160||459 g||720 g|
|170||459 g||765 g|
|180||486 g||810 g|
|190||513 g||855 g|
|200||540 g||900 g|
|210||567 g||945 g|
|220||594 g||990 g|
Carbohydrate intake around and during your workout has been shown to be beneficial. Read more about intra-workout carbs.
Step #4 Fats
Fats play a role in hormone production, joint health, and cell function. Fats are also a source of energy for the body.
Consuming a low-fat diet has been correlated to reduced testosterone concentration. (>20% of your calories coming from fat) (7)
As many of us are aware, testosterone is a hormone that aids in recovery, and therefore it would not be beneficial to consume a low-fat diet during a lean bulk.
With that being said, dietary fat can range from 20 – 40 % of total daily calories with no adverse effects on hormones. (8)
What foods to eat for a lean bulk
To maximize the amount of muscle you can gain while preventing fat gain, focus on nutrient-rich food sources. These include:
- Lean meats such as chicken, turkey, and fish
- Low-fat dairy products
- Quinoa, rice, oats, and other whole grains
- Sweet potatoes and other starchy vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils such as olive oil
It can be hard to only eat nutrient-rich foods when trying to bulk up and gain muscle. For one, these types of foods are not always available. Secondly, they may not always taste the best. Finally, it can be hard to make sure you are getting enough calories and all the nutrients you need if you are only eating nutrient-rich foods.
That’s why it is also recommended to include some easier-to-digest and more calorie-dense foods in your diet as well. These foods can include:
- Sports drinks
- Dried fruit
While you don’t want to make these highly processed foods the cornerstone of your diet, including them in moderation will help you reach your calorie goals while still allowing you to enjoy the foods you love.
What about supplements?
A few key supplements can help you on your lean bulk journey. These include:
- Protein powder: A protein supplement can help you reach your daily protein goals, especially if you have trouble getting enough from food alone. Read more about whey protein powder vs plant-based protein powder.
- Creatine is a supplement shown to increase strength and muscle mass. It can also help reduce fatigue, making it easier to push through tough workouts. (9)
- Caffeine is a stimulant that can help increase energy levels and focus. This can be helpful when trying to stay on track with your workout plan. (10)
While supplements can be helpful, they should not be relied on as the only source of nutrients. The best way to get all the nutrients you need is through a well-rounded diet that includes whole foods.
Sample meal plan for a lean bulk
Now that we know how many calories and grams of each macronutrient we need, let’s put it all together in an example diet plan.
A lean bulk meal plan aims to evenly distribute your calories and macros throughout the day.
For example, let’s say your calories are 2900 protein is 190 grams carbohydrates are 350 grams, and fats are 82 grams per day. Looking for more information on meal planning macros read the Meal Planning Macros blog
Assuming that we are eating 3 meals a day and two snacks the distribution could be like the following:
|Breakfasts||750||50 g||70 g||20 g|
|Lunch||750||50 g||70 g||20 g|
|Dinner||750||50 g||70 g||20 g|
|Snacks (2x)||300||20 g||40 g||12 g|
Sample Lean Bulk Meal Plan:
– Breakfast: Omelet with veggies, whole grain toast, and fruit
– Snack: Protein shake with milk and banana
– Lunch: Chicken salad with quinoa, avocado, and grilled vegetables
– Snack: Greek yogurt with berries and nuts – get 65 Macro Friendly Snacks
– Dinner: Grilled Chicken Sandwich
|Omelet with veggies, whole grain toast, and fruit||3 whole eggs ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese½ cup egg whites||Fruit, toast (X2)||Eggs, Butter|
|Chicken salad with quinoa, avocado, and grilled vegetables||Chicken & Quinoa||Quinoa and grilled veggies||Avocado, olive oil.|
|Grilled Chicken Sandwich & Sweet potato fries||Grilled chicken||Bun and sweet potato fries||Sauces, cheese|
|Greek yogurt with berries and nuts||Greek yogurt||Berries||Nuts|
|Protein Shake milk and banana peanut butter||Protein shake and milk||Banana||Peanut butter|
Lean bulking tips
While there is no set formula for lean bulking, a few general tips can help you achieve your goals.
Tip #1: Make sure you are strength training regularly.
Strength training is a key part of any lean bulk diet. It is important because it signals to your body that you want to build muscle.
Aim for three to five strength training sessions per week. This can be a mix of weights and bodyweight exercises.
As you get stronger, make sure you are progressively challenging your muscles by increasing your weight or number of reps.
Tip #2: Track your macros intake.
One of the most important aspects of any lean bulk diet is tracking your macros. This means keeping track of the amount of protein, carbs, and fats you eat daily.
This can be done by using a food journal or tracking app. This will help you make sure you are hitting your targets and not over or under-consuming any of the macros.
Read more about counting macros for beginners.
Tip #3: Stay hydrated.
It is important to stay hydrated when trying to lean bulk. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, muscle cramps, and decreased performance.
Aim to drink eight to ten glasses of water per day. You may need even more if you sweat a lot during your workouts.
Tip #4: Include healthy fats in your diet.
Healthy fats are an important part of any diet, but they are especially important when trying to lean bulk. This is because they help with hormone production and energy levels.
Some good sources of healthy fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
Tip #5: Take your time.
Gaining muscle takes time and patience. It is important to be patient and consistent with your workout routine and diet if you want to see results.
Rushing the process can lead to injuries and plateaus. So, take your time and enjoy the journey!
By following these tips, you’ll be on your way to a successful lean bulk.
Frequently Ask Questions
What is the best way to track my macros?
There are a few different ways to track your macros, including food journals, tracking apps, and online calculators. Choose the method that works best for you and be consistent with it. This will help you make sure you are hitting your targets.
What are some good sources of healthy fats?
Nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil are all good sources of healthy fats.
What if I feel like I’m not getting enough protein?
Remember to track your macros so you can be sure you are hitting your targets. If you are tracking and not hitting your protein goal, try adding an extra lean protein source to which meal is the lowest in protein.
What if I’m struggling to eat enough?
If you are struggling to eat enough, cut back on the calories slightly. You might need to start with your maintenance calories before jumping any higher.
What should I do if I’m not seeing results?
If you are not seeing results, make sure you are tracking your macros and consistent strength training. If you are doing both of those things, try increasing the weight or number of reps you are doing. You might also need to increase your calories slightly.
What are some good exercises to help me bulk up?
Some good exercises to help bulk up include squats, deadlifts, and bench press to name a few.
What are some good snacks to eat when trying to bulk up?
Some good snacks to eat when trying to bulk up are greek yogurt, fruit, nuts, and seeds. These snacks will help you hit your macros and give you energy.
Can I drink alcohol while trying to bulk up?
It is best to avoid alcohol while trying to bulk up because it can lead to decreased performance
Gaining muscle mass takes time and patience. If you are looking to do a Lean Bulk, make sure you focus on the core three:
- Macros: protein, fat, and carb.
- Strength training
At this point, you should know the number of calories, grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fats that you need to have a successful lean bulk. Get a copy of the 7 day meal plan for muscle gain.
Now all you need to do is crush some weights and grow!
Thank you for reading!
Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.
Noah Quezada is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in Denver, Colorado. Over the course of more than a decade, he has gained extensive experience in helping clients manage their weight through in-person sessions. Noah is also the 2023 President of the Colorado Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.