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How to Bulk Up Without Gaining Belly Fat

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
An enviable physique requires strong lifts and careful diet planning.
An enviable physique requires strong lifts and careful diet planning. Photo Credit takoburito/iStock/Getty Images

A dedicated workout ethic and proper diet are key to bulking up. Eating whole foods rich in lean protein, rather than junk food, is especially important when it comes to putting on muscle rather than fat.

Besides marring a buff physique, belly fat is especially concerning as it's inflammatory and raises your risk of disease. If you're serious about hitting the weight rack and fuel well throughout the day — you can add pounds of muscle without expanding your belly.

Add Calories Carefully

To gain weight — including muscle weight — you must eat a surplus of calories. Use an online calculator to determine how many calories you use daily, according to your age, size, gender and activity level. Then, increase this number by 250 to 500 calories to determine a daily caloric intake target that encourages muscle gain.

If you increase your calories by too much, it will lead to fat gain. You can only realistically gain at most 1/2 to 1 pound of muscle per week. If you add more than 500 calories, you'll be bulking up by adding fat, not healthy muscle.

If your body type tends to add fat easily, make the surplus right around 250 calories. Extra fat may or may not head straight to your belly — but why risk it?

The quality of the calories you eat matters, too. Consuming fast food, processed snacks, sugar, saturated fats and refined grains means you're more likely to add belly fat. Instead, use extra servings of protein as the primary way to increase caloric intake.

A weight-training athlete seeking to add muscle should aim to eat 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. For a 150-pound person, this comes out to 113 grams per day. Divide that over four or five meals for 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal.

Other quality foods to use for adding calories include healthy fats, such as olive oil and avocado, and whole grains, including brown rice and quinoa.

Vary your workouts by using different equipment.
Vary your workouts by using different equipment. Photo Credit shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

Lifting Weights Is a Must

You'll also gain fat, and possibly belly fat, if you fail to hit the gym. For every pound of weight gained while sedentary, two-thirds of it is weight from fat.

Include short cardio sessions, such as brisk walking or stair climbing, when your goal is adding bulk because it keeps your heart healthy and your joints supple. However, your primary exercise focus needs to be on lifting heavy weights.

Challenge all the major muscle groups at three or more workouts per week. Leave at least 48 hours between workouts for specific muscle groups to permit them to repair and grow. If you lift more than three times per week, perform a split routine in which, for example, you work the upper body one day and lower body the next.

The major muscle groups are the chest, back, abs, biceps, triceps, shoulders, legs and hips. Large, compound movements that work multiple muscle groups at once stimulate multiple muscle fibers and contribute to growth.

Build in moves such as deadlifts, chest presses, barbell rows, squats and leg curls. Aim for at least one set of four to eight repetitions of an exercise or two for each muscle group using a weight that makes it hard to complete the final efforts with good form. Work up to as many as six sets for the most gains.

A study published in Obesity in 2010 showed that resistance training deters visceral fat regain, too. Visceral fat is the dangerous type of belly fat that surrounds your internal organs and raises your risk of disease.

Read more: 20 Best Muscle-Building Foods

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