During the off-season, when competitions are in the distant future, most bodybuilders go on a "bulking cycle" in which they try to add as much muscle mass as possible. Bulking is necessary of you want to develop your physique, although one consequence of bulking is short-term fat gain. But there are strategies you can use to minimize your fat accumulation in your belly.
When bulking, you need to consume more calories than you burn, so that your body has the energy needed to build muscle. However, it's very easy to make the mistake of thinking more calories equals more muscle gain. In reality, your body builds muscle at a steady rate, so more calories leads to more fat gain. Bodybuilding diet coach Tom Venuto advises using an online calorie calculator to find your ideal calorie intake for muscle gain. He also recommends not falling into the trap of eating 5,000 to 6,000 calories per day, because most people can gain muscle on between 3,200 and 4,000 calories.
During contest season, the typical bodybuilding diet consists of foods such as chicken, rice, broccoli, oats and fish. However, when bulking after such a strict dieting phase, it is very tempting to turn to junk food to get your calories in. Junk food, or any foods high in refined carbohydrates, trans fats and additives, are very easy to overeat, and where they play no useful role in the body, are more likely to be stored as fat. While your diet doesn't need to be 100 percent strict when bulking, base it around nutrient-dense healthy foods like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.
If you do find that you're putting on too much stomach fat, you can reduce your calorie intake. However, this may leave you feeling hungry, tired and lethargic, so a better option is to increase your energy expenditure. More weight training can cause fatigue and overtraining, so adding extra cardiovascular work is your best bet. Venuto recommends performing your cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Get up half an hour before breakfast three or four times per week, and go for a brisk walk, light jog, swim or cycle ride.
It's virtually impossible to notice fat gain on a daily basis, so keeping regular measurements is important, to make sure you don't put on too much fat. Sports nutritionist Dr. John Berardi recommends checking your weight, measuring the circumferences of your stomach and muscles, doing skinfold measurements and taking progress photos once every two weeks. This will give an accurate representation of your progress and allow you to make the necessary adjustments to your training and diet.
- The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition; Dr John Berardi, et al.
- Burn the Fat Blog: 7 Secrets To Gain Lean Muscle Without Getting Fat