Getting ready to pack on some serious muscle this season? You’ll be looking to fuel those tough gym sessions with food that really makes a difference. Let us run you through the top foods for bulking to get your kitchen stocked this summer.
Best Foods for Bulking
When it comes to bulking and building muscle mass it's recommended that you aim to be in a 250-500kcal daily calorie surplus.1 Consuming calorie dense food can help with this. When choosing the best foods for bulking, it's important to understand that different macros contain different numbers of calories - proteins and carbs both contain 4kcals per gram whereas fats contain 9kcals per gram.
A diet rich in healthy fats is therefore a good way to take on enough calories. There’s also evidence to suggest that healthy fats, like omega-3s, can help increase muscle protein synthesis - the process in which your body builds muscle.2 Fats are also important for the storage of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K.
Protein is also essential when looking to build muscle mass with optimal recommendations being 1.6g/kg/d and 0.4g/kg per meal.3 Protein has the highest effect on satiety so if you struggle to eat enough calories, keeping protein intake no higher than 1.6g/kg and including plenty of carbohydrates and healthy fats in your diet can make it easier to be in a calorie surplus and keep your protein levels high enough.
Carbohydrates are also really important for fuelling the tough training sessions needed to build muscle and helping you to recover. Not all carbs are the same though, with complex carbs typically containing more fibre and have a lower GI. Whilst these are typically the healthiest option for those looking to lose or maintain body weight, when bulking, simple, high GI carbs may actually be more appropriate.
If you struggle to eat enough food to be in a calorie surplus, consuming easily digested high GI carbs can be a good way to do this. Additionally, evidence shows that higher GI carbs will help to replenish glycogen stores at a faster rate than lower GI carbs.4 This will help you recover quicker and allow you to train at a high intensity during every session.
Whilst it can be tempting to shove as many calories down as possible when bulking, it’s important to ensure you stick to the modest 250-500kcal surplus. When bulking it’s all too easy to fill up on the wrong foods, so here are 10 great options to see you through the season.
1. Whole Milk and Cottage Cheese
Previously, you may have been avoiding dairy, especially if you’ve been cutting, but whole milk is a great way to stock up on protein, calcium and add extra fat and calories to your diet, with around 150 calories per glass.
Consuming cottage cheese and whole milk provides a good source of protein to help build muscle, whilst the fat and carbohydrates help restore muscle glycogen stores and maximise your muscle-building potential. Try consuming whole milk with your post-workout protein shake or enjoy a pot of cottage cheese before bed. Cottage cheese with nuts and a scoop of Impact Whey Protein is a firm favourite as a bulking snack or meal.
2. Nuts and Nut Butters
We’re sure you already know nuts are energy-dense and full of healthy monounsaturated fats. It’s for this reason that nuts and nut butters are perfect for bulking.
Small servings of nuts can provide a large number of calories in addition to protein and fat, with up to 300 calories per 50g, making them perfect for bulking. What’s more, nuts and nut butters are packed full of essential micronutrients and minerals including magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, all of which are essential when it comes to maintaining a healthy nutritional status and building muscle mass. Try snacking on a handful of nuts when the hunger kicks in, or for the ultimate snack cover a banana in peanut butter. Delicious!
Keeping in the theme of healthy fats, salmon and other sources of fatty fish should be part of your bulking diet. In fact, eating at least one portion of fatty fish per week is recommended by the government for the general UK population. Salmon is full of monounsaturated fatty acids which are super-healthy and great for clean bulking.
In addition to this, the large dose of omega-3 fatty acids we get from fatty fish can help improve joint care and cardiovascular health. During intense training try and consume around 2-3 servings of fatty fish per week.
Avocados contain monounsaturated fatty acids such as oleic acid, which are perfect for adding healthy calories and fat to your diet. Eating avocado during bulking season also means you’ll be consuming a high amount of antioxidants and vitamins including vitamin E.
Vitamin E plays many different and important roles in the body which are vital for your overall wellbeing. So, why not try mashed avocado on rice crackers, in a salad or even better in homemade avocado brownies or avocado cheesecake.
5. Whole Eggs
If you’ve been binning the egg yolks, stop! Whole eggs are great for getting a good source of protein and fat whilst bulking with around 75-90 calories per egg.
Many people consider eggs to be unhealthy due to their saturated fat content and high cholesterol, but did you know eggs are high in healthy cholesterol? And unless you’re eating 12 eggs a day, the saturated fat content shouldn’t be a problem. Get in a good source of fat and protein by making a whole egg omelette or some delicious scrambled egg.
6. Lean Beef
When it comes to getting a great physique, lean sources of protein are most people’s number one choice, with many individuals lowering their intake of red meat. However, consuming red meat is great for bulking for many reasons. For example, red meat is a source of fat and protein, which when consumed regularly can help the growth of muscle mass.
What’s more, red meat is high in heme iron. There are two types of iron generally consumed in the diet — heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is much more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron. Getting an adequate amount of iron is essential when building muscle and training hard.
7. Coconut and Olive Oil
When adding fat to your diet, coconut and olive oils are a great addition. Making small changes such as using more coconut and olive oil in cooking and meal prep is a great way to add healthy fats and extra calories to your diet, without leaving you too full.
8. Sweet Potato
When it comes to bulking, most people think protein, protein, more protein, and fat- but really, carbohydrates are a must. Forget cutting carbs to a minimum — now is the time to enjoy your meat and potatoes. Sweet potatoes are jam-packed full of carbohydrates with the average potato providing around 40g of carbs and lots of vitamins and minerals.
What’s more, if you’re doing a clean bulk and avoiding refined sugar, sweet potato is great for satisfying a sweet tooth and can be incorporated into lots of protein recipes, such as this sweet potato protein brownie recipe. Try adding a portion of sweet potato to your meals and reap the bulking benefits. Sweet potatoes are considered a low GI carbohydrate source which makes them a good pre-workout option as they will provide energy over a long period of time.
Oats are another great source of complex carbohydrates that can really give you a helping hand during bulking season. Oats are an amazing source of fibre and complex carbohydrates that can not only aid digestion but more importantly provide a sustained release of energy — perfect for a pre-workout meal. In addition, oats can add a healthy source of fat and calories to your diet without leaving you feeling too full.
White pasta is high GI carbohydrate with a 100g (dried weight) portion containing approx. 350kcals and 70g of carbs. This makes it a great post-workout option as it will allow you to recover quickly and fuel you for your next session. Generous portions of pasta will also help contribute to the calories required to hit a modest calorie consumption whilst bulking. Combining your pasta with some lean beef in a Bolognese can be a perfect post workout meal whilst bulking.
Like pasta, white rice is also high GI carbohydrate and the lower fibre content will mean you may be able to eat more of it without getting as full. This can help if you struggle to eat enough food to hit the calorie surplus required. Adding extra rice to salads and other main meals is a good way to keep your calories and carbs high. This will allow you to keep your training volume up, which is an important factor when building muscle mass.5
12. Dark Chocolate
Last but not least, chocolate. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, dark chocolate is a great way to fix your sugar cravings. Chocolate with over 75% cocoa content is also full of antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. For the ultimate bulking treat, try a banana covered in peanut butter and melted dark chocolate.
Take Home Message
If you’re bulking and not including at least a few of these top bulking foods in your diet, you could be making some serious mass-gaining mistakes. Remember, hitting both your macro- and micro-nutrient goals is the key to reaping the benefits of your training, so ensure you eat a good variety of both these foods on the list as well as getting in some added greens.
If you’re looking for an extra helping hand to supplement your bulk this season, our gainer range is ideal. Have a browse of some of our favourite blends below.
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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
- Slater GJ, Dieter BP, Marsh DJ, Helms ER, Shaw G, Iraki J. Is an Energy Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Associated With Resistance Training. Front Nutr. 2019 Aug 20;6:131. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00131. PMID: 31482093; PMCID: PMC6710320.
- McGlory C, Calder PC, Nunes EA. The Influence of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Skeletal Muscle Protein Turnover in Health, Disuse, and Disease. Front Nutr. 2019;6:144. Published 2019 Sep 6. doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00144
- Jäger, R., Kerksick, C.M., Campbell, B.I. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 20 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
- Burke, L., van Loon, L. and Hawley, J., 2017. Postexercise muscle glycogen resynthesis in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology, 122(5), pp.1055-1067.
- Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Krieger J, et al. Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(1):94-103. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764