Bodybuilding is the best sport. I mean, what other sport lets you eat a ton of junk food every day and get rewarded for it?
For most people, it seems backward when they see me eating a ton of ice cream and slamming big macs down left and right- yet, I look really buff and muscular.
I am guessing you’ve now just started a bulk, and you’re excited to get the muscle. In this article, I will be talking about how long you should bulk for AND explain WHY- the science behind it.
If you don’t got a lot of time on your hands as you need to hit the gym soon, let me give a simplified answer to this famous question.
So, how long SHOULD you bulk for? Well, you should ideally want to bulk AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. For most people, it’s a good idea to bulk for around 4-5 months at a time. This will give you enough time to put on muscle, minimize fat gain, and yet still give you enough time to cut off any fat you may have put on in a shorter amount of time.
Let’s cover this a bit more in-depth.
Ideally You Want To Bulk As Long As Possible
I will preface this by saying: ideally you want to bulk as long as possible.
In a perfect world, you would basically want to bulk for years on end without cutting.
This is mainly because it takes so long to build muscle. Whenever you go on a cut and stop your bulk- you stop your muscle growth completely. And as we all know, it can feel like a snail race moves faster than muscle growth.
So, the goal is to never interrupt this cycle if you’re really trying to put on a serious amount of muscle.
Take it from me, I went on tons of pointless cuts to lose weight to impress women, and it really does slow your progress in the gym.
So, let’s assume that you can maintain a good +250 calorie bulk for around a year, that is really the ideal way of doing things.
When I FIRST started bodybuilding, I DID listen to this advice. I bulked for nearly a year STRAIGHT. In just my first year of bodybuilding, I was successfully able to put on nearly 40 pounds of muscle over my first 365 days. I had become a COMPLETLY changed person.
And it was really fun- doing all of the eating. I was eating ice cream, cookies, burgers, et cetera nonstop for about a year. I was working out 2x a day and doing cardio for about an hour a day and I GREW.
Now, you don’t necessarily have to be doing such an intense workout or anything, I just found bodybuilding to be really fun!
That’s Easier Said Than Done
Truthfully speaking, bulking for a year- bulking for really any period longer than 5 months – is much easier said than done.
I know a lot of you newer bodybuilders may be going, “What? How is eating all you want for a year hard?”
Well, here are some things you should know:
- You can feel very fatigued from the weight gain.
- You can feel health problems from the weight gain.
- Food does cost a lot of money, and you may not be able to financially support a bulk that long.
- All that eating takes a lot of time as well. If you get really busy, it can be hard to maintain a bulk.
- Some people will experience stomach issues during a bulk.
- Your body, due to the weight gain, makes you feel full instead of hungry. So you basically have to force feed yourself.
So, with that in mind. While the goal is a year, a more realistic goal is around 4-5 months before your sanity leaves you.
But, this number isn’t just good sanity-wise, there’s another reason that bulking for around 4-5 months is good.
Your Muscle Growth Peaks at Around 14 Weeks
I know many of us understand that you can lift for literally like 6 weeks and barely even see results.
Bodybuilding at times seems like you’re making no progress at all.
This is because your body really doesn’t want to build muscle for no reason at all.
We need to remember that we evolved as humans. We used to sit out there all day chasing down Gazelle and other animals to feed our families. Grocery stores didn’t really pop up until just a hundred years ago.
Muscle takes a lot of calories to maintain. And because our bodies evolved when we didn’t have a surplus of food, our bodies have evolved to not pout on muscle unless absolutely necessary.
So, it takes a long time of constant muscle activation to really ‘convince’ your body to grow that muscle after all.
When you consistently work out, that 12-14 week mark is the ‘golden era’ of muscle growth.
Here’s a graph that kind of shows that:
As you see, if your bulk is only 4-6 weeks, you’ll see very little muscle growth.
Now, for many people you may be going, “Well, durr Tommy, that makes sense. The more you work out, the more muscle you get”.
But, the truth is, most people don’t realize that if their bulk is short, they’ll essentially be ‘spinning wheels’ and not gaining muscle or losing fat really.
Say you bulk for 4 weeks. According to the graph you’d expect to get around .5kg of muscle growth, which is 1 pound of muscle growth. Then, assume you go on a cut for a month. Every time you go on a cut, you lose some muscle (that’s just how our bodies work, unfortunately).
So let’s assume you lose .25 lbs on that cut. Now, you start another 4 week bulk and add another pound. After these 3 months, you’ve essentially put on 1.75 pounds of muscle.
1.75 pounds of muscle over 3 months is well, nothing…
Instead, if you had just bulked that full 3 months you would’ve gained 2kg of muscle (according to the graph) which is about 4.5 pounds of muscle. (That’s about 3x the muscle!)
So, if you just stick with the longer bulk, you make a lot more muscle in the same amount of time.
This Puts On Much Less Fat, More Muscle, and Stops You From Spining Your Wheels
NOW, when you do your cut, you’ll lose some muscle, but overall you have much more muscle than you would’ve had if you kept doing the short bulk and short cut cycle.
I know it can be tempting to do the short bulk and cut cycle. It can be frustrating to hop on a bulk and look fatter, because then you want to get shredded again right away.
Trust me, I’ve done this many times before. I start a bulk, then realize I’m hitting California in 4 weeks for a massive beach party and I want to look shredded. This has happened multiple times in my life, and my overall physique has suffered because of it.
If I had just stuck with the bulk and stopped worrying so much about what others thought about me for some small party, I would probably be literally 2x my size.
And having all of that muscle would look SO MUCH better in the end game.
Remember, putting on muscle is a slow process that takes a lot of time. And as we all know, the more muscle you have- the better you look and the stronger you are.
Don’t waste time and make the same mistakes countless bodybuilders (myself included) have made by doing small bulk/cut cycles. Stick with a long-term bulk and you’ll thank me later.
Conclusion of How Long Should You Bulk For?
So, the best advice is: bulk as long as possible. (Although it’s good to take a break every 4-5 months)
However, the best time frame for most people is to bulk for 12-14 weeks. Or 3-5 months or so. That is the optimal time to maximize muscle growth, minimize fat, and see noticeable changes in your physique.
Let me know how long you typically bulk for in the comments below! Thank you for reading.